Temple University men’s basketball was unable to overcome a 10-point first-half deficit in its fourth loss of the season.
The Owls (14-4, 2-2 Big Five) were never in control of the game, trailing by as many as 13 points in a 77-70 loss to Penn (11-6, 3-0 Big Five) on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
Penn found the open man on the 3-point line after the Owls were out of position because of playing too much help defense, senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. said.
Temple was not efficient enough in covering the three ball, allowing Penn to make 12-of-20 3-pointers in the loss, as the Quakers shot 40 percent from beyond the arc.
The Quakers relied on unlikely sources for their offensive success on Saturday night as Penn coach Steve Donahue decided to give players like junior forward Jakub Mijakowski elevated playing time due to his work in practice. Mijakowski finished the night with 14 points.
“I always try to reward guys that do it in practice,” Donahue said. “If I don’t, I feel like I’m a bit fraudulent.”
Junior forward AJ Brodeur led Penn with 16 points and added seven rebounds.
Late in the second half, the Owls cut the lead down to five. But not for long as Brodeur, who senior center Ernest Aflakpui called a great passer, was able to dish out a pass wide open to senior guard Jake Silpe. Silpe banked in a 3-pointer to give the Quakers an 8-point lead with 39 seconds remaining in the game.
With 6:58 remaining in the first half, Penn junior guard Devon Goodman hit a 3-pointer. Goodman went down on the other end, locked down Alston from the top of the key, stealing an errant pass from sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis. Racing down the court for an emphatic dunk on the other end, giving the Quakers a 22-14 lead, forcing Fran Dunphy to burn a 30-second timeout.
In the first half, the Owls struggled to guard Penn’s ability beyond the arc. The Quakers shot 7-of-18 from 3-point, as Mijakowski went 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
Aflakpui had his best offensive game of the season, scoring a career-high 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. The 15 rebounds were the single most from an Owl in a regular season game since Jaylen Bond had 15 in 2016.
Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. had one of his toughest games of the season. Alston shot 5-of-17 from the field, only scoring 14 points. Because his shots could not go, Alston said he tried to find Aflakpui more often, who tended to be wide open on ball screens.
“I got a lot of open looks that I usually make,” Alston added. “They just went in and out. That’s mostly on me. I just gotta hit those shots.”
Penn had a game-plan for Alston that they felt worked really well, Brodeur said.
“When we watched film, we talked about how the big has to step up on the ball screen and take away all of [Alston’s] vision at the rim and make him pass it or go by you,” Brodeur added. “He excels at shooting those long mid-range jumpers and we wanted to take that away from him while also still trying to make it tougher for when he inevitably does get those shots. I think that’s what led to our success defensively.”
With a win, Temple would have been able to share a Big 5 title with both Penn and Villanova. Now, the Quakers have a chance to win the Big 5 against St. Joe’s next Saturday at The Palestra.
Dunphy, who is often very reserved in his emotions, was more displeased with the game result than not winning a share of the Big 5.
“We lost against a really good team today,” Dunphy said following the loss. “They played really well, they made shots when they needed to. I haven’t thought one bit about that [on his feeling following his last Big 5 game].
The game against Penn, Dunphy’s former school for 17 seasons, will be his last Big 5 game ever. Dunphy added that he is more interested in focusing on the Owl’s next two conference matchups with Memphis and Cincinnati, than dwelling over a loss to his former school.
However, he shared a moment with Donahue, one of his former assistants at Penn. This is only the second time that Donahue has beaten Dunphy in his career. The first time Donahue beat Dunphy was during the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament when 12 seed Cornell University upset 5 seed Temple.
“I’m handling this worse than he is,” Donahue added, after beating his former mentor.
Temple will host Memphis (12-6, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) on Thursday at the Liacouras Center looking to bounce back after its first loss in five games.