Before the men’s basketball team tipped off against the University of Cincinnati last Tuesday night, Fran Dunphy spent some time as a video-interview guest on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Philly Sports Talk. Toward the end of the segment, the show’s host, Michael Barkann, asked Temple’s ninth-year coach to repeat after him, “This is Temple’s biggest game since?”
“Biggest game since Memphis,” Dunphy said, referring to Temple’s most recent win to that point, a 61-60 road triumph against the Tigers on Feb. 7.
“Biggest game since Memphis?” Barkann repeated back, while laughing.
Dunphy could have pointed to Temple’s contest on Dec. 22, 2014, against the University of Kansas, then ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Owls won that game in a 25-point thumping at the Wells Fargo Center.
He could have answered with the Owls’ 57-53 road win against Connecticut, a conference opponent and the defending national champion, on Dec. 31, or a matchup with conference leader Southern Methodist at the Liacouras Center, which featured the return of former Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown.
He didn’t, because that’s not what Dunphy does.
Dunphy, in his 26th season as a Division I coach, refuses to look too far behind or ahead. It’s a mindset that a veteran of 11 conference championships as coach – two with Temple in the Atlantic 10 Conference – and 15 NCAA tournaments develops, perfects and stands by.
It’s also the method he has enforced during his team’s current seven-game winning streak, one that has whipped up talks of Temple’s potential participation in mid-March basketball.
“I know, it’s really boring,” Dunphy said of his game-by-game approach after the Owls’ eventual defeat of the Bearcats. “But it’s coach speak and that’s what it is. We’re not good enough to think anything further than the next step along the way.”
“Are we playing pretty well? Yeah, we’re doing OK,” Dunphy added after Temple’s 66-53 defeat of East Carolina Saturday. “But we have to protect how we’re playing. … That’s all you can think about, the next step along the way. If you do a good job, then everything else will take care of itself.”
With 19 wins, Temple has more than doubled its win total from last season, a 9-22 campaign in which it finished second-last in the American Athletic Conference and allowed 78.1 points per game, good for 330th in Division I. The Owls have tightened up defensively for much of the season, as they’re averaging 60.0 points allowed through 26 games, which ranks 35th in the country.
The additions of transfers Jaylen Bond, Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman, along with freshman and top forward reserve Obi Enechionyia, have helped. Bond’s 8.3 rebounds per game leads the conference by a considerable margin, with Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis’ 7.1 rpg being the closest behind him. Morgan and his 12.8 points per game have helped add a spark in Temple’s 3-point shooting game since he and Coleman regained eligibility on Dec. 18.
Seven games through the course of a month have re-energized the program and revived Temple’s chances of an NCAA tournament bid after it missed out last year for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
But, Dunphy’s players can’t worry about that just yet.
“We just try to do a good job in going to the next game and not worrying about what we did in the previous game, and taking the same importance into each game,” senior guard Will Cummings said. “We beat Cincinnati, and that’s a big game, but we had to beat East Carolina, because if we drop [that] one, that’s a bad loss. … We try to approach each game with the same importance.”
The Owls notched Dunphy’s 496th career win Saturday when they topped the Pirates (11-14, 4-8 The American), bringing Dunphy within four wins of 500 for his coaching career. He could reach the feat before the regular season concludes. By that point, the possibility remains that his team’s place in the field of 68 could be further assured before the conference tournament kicks off on March 12.
The Owls have put themselves in position to dance in March, but don’t tell it to their coach. He’s not looking past Thursday’s visit to SMU.
After all, it’ll be Temple’s biggest game since East Carolina.
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.