Dalton Pepper had never played more than 26 minutes or scored more than 15 points in a collegiate game.
“I just wanted to go out and play as hard as I can and try to give as much as I can to the team,” Pepper said. “I got the jitters out coming out and making the first couple shots. It’s what you want to do. Just come out, play as hard as you can and just do what you can.”
The redshirt-senior guard set career highs against the University of Pennsylvania, scoring 19 points – a team high – in 31 minutes of action. He also grabbed nine rebounds, nearly doubling his previous career high of five. It was his second career start, and first at Temple.
“Nobody’s rooting for Dalton Pepper more than our coaching staff and his teammates, because he’s earned this right,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We want him to be the best player he can be.”
“He’s a really good man and I’m rooting like crazy for him,” Dunphy added.
Pepper is the only senior on the team, and despite averaging 11.3 minutes a game last season, is one of the more experienced Owls. He will need to both get his confidence back and lead the young players for Temple to be successful.
“Two freshmen are going to play a lot,” Pepper said. “We have three sophomores who are going to play a lot. It’s really only [junior guard] Will [Cummings], [redshirt-junior forward Anthony Lee] and me. Just gotta step up and lead those guys and show them the way. Take after what Scootie [Randall], Rahlir [Hollis-Jefferson], Khalif [Wyatt], Jake [O’Brien] and T.J. [DiLeo] did.”
“It’s a great experience, honestly, knowing that you have to go out there and step up and just take things that you learned from those guys in the past like Khalif and [Ramone Moore] and Juan [Fernandez] and Scootie,” Cummings said. “Just implement those to the younger guys and make sure that they’re listening and understanding how critical the game is and just understanding the time and the score and just make sure we’re doing our jobs.”
Cummings also set a career high in points, scoring 18 points, 12 of which came in the second half. He played 29 minutes, nearly six more than his average last year, but Dunphy said he wanted Cummings to have more minutes.
“He’s a pretty smart guy,” Dunphy said of Cummings. “He can figure out that we need him to be very aggressive. What we can’t do is have him get two fouls and be out of the game for as much as he was in the first half. We weathered that storm, but I don’t want to play that many minutes without him. He’s a very aggressive guy and he made a couple fantastic plays tonight down the stretch.”
While Penn only led for 19 seconds of the second half, the game was tight for the last six minutes. Cummings said the August trip to Europe helped the Owls stay focused.
“We went down a lot in Europe,” Cummings said. “Knowing that we’ve been there before, I think that helped us a lot. Make sure we stay calm and know basketball’s a game of runs. We’re going to have our runs, other teams are going to have their runs. Make sure we stay poised and under control and make free throws down the stretch.”
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.