Pass-first mentality

joey cranneyThe Owls’ guards win with unselfish play.

The men’s basketball team doesn’t care how it gets to 78 points, all that matters is that when the Owls score that many points, they don’t lose.

No. 22 Temple (21-5, 10-2 Atlantic Ten Conference) has reached or eclipsed that mark 11 times this season, going a perfect 11-0 in those games. In Saturday’s matchup against Duquesne, it was the Temple and A-10 leading scorer, redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore, stepping aside and helping his teammates score in the Owls’ 78-59 win.

Moore tied a career high with eight assists, took only six shots and scored just three points, allowing senior guard Juan Fernandez and junior guard Khalif Wyatt to take over the offense, scoring 20 and 24 points, respectively.

“[Moore] didn’t score much, but he had eight assists,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “That says a lot about Ramone. I’m not surprised by that. He number one cares about his teammates and our team. Would he like to score? Sure. He’s a scorer and we need him to score. But he did other things for his team today, mainly set his teammates up greatly.”

“Your leading scorer doesn’t need to be your leading scorer on any given day,” Dunphy added. “But he did so many other things to help his team.”

Fernandez said that in any given game, any one of the three guards could score when the team needs him to.

“It’s not a matter of confidence, it’s a matter of the way this team plays,” Fernandez said. “[Moore] didn’t score that much, but he had eight assists. Some days it’s going to be [Wyatt] not scoring much but having a lot of assists.”

“Nobody gets upset or loses their confidence if you don’t score in a game,” Fernandez added. “As long as you win, everything’s fine.”

After not getting anything going early, Moore turned facilitator. He didn’t try to force anything offensively, but instead looked for teammates, like Fernandez, who said he felt better shooting the ball than he had in a while.

“I haven’t shot the ball like that in a while, it felt good,” Fernandez said. “That’s the good thing about this team, today it was [Wyatt and me], sometimes it’s [Moores], and when you have a lot of options like that it’s hard for the other team to stop you. If we know how to use that and handle that, we’re going to be all right.”

Fernandez shot 7-for-9 from the floor, including 6-for-7 from behind the arc. He was outstanding, but it wasn’t the typical Fernandez game we’ve come to expect during the past two years.

Fernandez has been the same player for the past two seasons. His stat line from last season compared to this season is almost identical, the only thing that has changed is that he’s taking less shots and making more of them. He has played like the true point guard that he is, more than willing to give up the ball and happy to make shots when his team needs him to. Fernandez leads the team in assists, and his 20-point performance on Saturday was just the third of the season because he likes it that way.

“I thought [Fernandez] was terrific,” Dunphy said. “He’s had games like this in the past. He has these kinds of moments within him. I wouldn’t be disappointed if it presents itself every game from here on out.”

“My job is passing the ball and trying to get [teammates] the ball,” Fernandez added. “But when I’m feeling it I’m obviously going to shoot the ball a little more That’s the good thing about this team. You have a lot of options, and the guys realize that.”

Moore’s low-scoring offensive game on Saturday also opened up the scoring for some of Temple’s role players. During a seven-minute stretch early in the second half, 15 points were scored for Temple by guys not named Moore, Wyatt or Fernandez. Junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson scored six points, sophomore guard Aaron Brown hit a three and added a dunk, and both junior guard TJ DiLeo and redshirt-freshman forward Anthony Lee hit free throws to lead the Owls during that time span.

“We have the ball a lot,” Wyatt said. “For [Brown] to hit open shots, [DiLeo] to hit open shots and for Lee to get offensive rebounds and put it back, it helps us and it helps with their confidence. When they’re playing good, we’re hard to beat.”

Fernandez said that while he was pleased with his offensive performance, the ability of Temple’s three starting guards to share the wealth is what really drives this team.

“That’s the way it happens when you have three guards who share the ball,” Fernandez said. “Then you have guys coming off the bench and doing their job and that’s how a team grows. We’re doing a really good job right now.”

“They have understood each other very well,” Dunphy added. “My job sometimes is to just shut up and get out of the way. They’re on their own for so much time. I’m out there yelling and fussing and cussing and hopefully they’re not listening and doing their own thing because they’re really good basketball players.”

Joey Cranney can be reached at joseph.cranney@temple.edu.

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