It could be said that Temple’s play through the first 35 minutes was as ugly as the weather outside in Newark, N.J.
But behind two constant Owls and a surprise contributor, the Owls overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to beat Seton Hall, 71-65, Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
A 12-2 run by the Pirates (8-1) to open the second half put the Owls down, 42-29, and in jeopardy of losing their first game in six days after Temple’s upset victory against No. 3 Villanova. But the Owls (9-2) quickly answered back with a 14-5 run of their own and a 10-2 run to close out their second win of the season against a previously unbeaten Big East Conference opponent.
“We’re just very fortunate to have won that game,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “That’s a very good win for us given some of the circumstances that took place. We got ourselves into foul trouble; we get ourselves down 13 early in the second half but just found a way to claw back into it. We had some great efforts off the bench.”
Sophomore forward Scootie Randall, who averages one point and fewer than four minutes a game, played 15 minutes Saturday, mostly in place of junior forward Lavoy Allen, who spent most of the second half on the bench due to foul trouble.
Randall had a career-high nine points, all of which came from behind the 3-point line. He also finished with six rebounds and an assist in the first game in which he saw extensive playing time.
“Coach always tells me to be ready, and I just wait for my number to be called,” Randall said. “I practice on my 3-point shooting a lot, so they told me to just go in there and just shoot anytime I’m open. I was feeling it, so I just kept shooting.”
It was Randall who helped eradicate Seton Hall’s 13-point lead when he knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the Pirates’ lead to just one. Then, with the game tied at 63 and less than three minutes remaining, Randall knocked down another 3 to put the Owls ahead for good.
“I hope this is one of those things that propels him to have a terrific rest of the season,” Dunphy said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s a good guy. He just really hasn’t been given his opportunity yet. I’m really impressed with him. I’m really happy for him, and I think every one of his teammates is really happy for him as well.”
One of his teammates, senior captain and guard Ryan Brooks, said that he saw a shooter full of confidence after Randall made his first trey.
“That’s what we expect the guys that come off the bench to do – be ready to play and play with confidence. You’re in there for a reason, which is to make plays,” Brooks said. “He’s a prime example of that just having an extreme amount of confidence as he was hitting shots and definitely was able to propel us to this win.”
Another main contributor in the Owls’ comeback was their ability to hit free throws. Free-throw shooting has been an Achilles’ heel all year for Temple. The Owls entered the game shooting just 61 percent from the charity stripe.
But tonight was different, as the Owls made 14-of-16 free throws, with 13 of them coming in the second half. Sophomore guard Juan Fernandez tied the game at 63 with two free throws, paving the way for Randall’s 3. Fernandez then knocked down another two foul shots to put the Owls up five points with 30 seconds left.
Brooks led the Owls with a career-high 24 points. Fernandez, a game after his 33-point explosion against Villanova, scored 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
The two combined to go 13-of-13 from the free-throw line.
“Free throws can win or lose a game for you,” Brooks said. “Fortunately, we made free throws in crucial moments to get us back in the game and down the stretch. It was very, very important to make free throws, and we were all aware of that if we wanted to win this game.”
The Owls did not show much desire to compete after 20 minutes of play. Temple, which ranks second best in the nation in turnovers per game, turned the ball over nine times in the first half.
“I think we hurt ourselves in the first half,” Brooks said. “We came out a little too juiced up, a little too excited. We did some uncharacteristic things. We turned the ball over nine times. We’re not even turning the ball over nine times a game in the past. I think our emotions got the best of us.”
Despite the slow start, the Owls trailed by just three points at the half. The Pirates went on a run to open the second half, but after that, the Owls regrouped and began to chip away at Seton Hall’s lead.
“I think Seton Hall is really good at scoring the ball,” Dunphy said. “We can’t beat them if we get into a scoring contest because they’re too deep, they’re too talented, so we needed to have the tempo go our way.”
Sophomore forward Herb Pope recorded 13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and four steals en route to his seventh double-double of the season. Senior guard Eugene Harvey added 16 points, three assists and three steals for the Pirates.
The Owls will have another long layoff before they return to the court. They have nine days off before they host Bowling Green at McGonigle Hall Dec. 28.
“I don’t think a coach will let himself think too far down the line except that it’s a really good win for us,” Dunphy said. “It’s against a Big East team that hadn’t lost yet, at their facility. We’re going to take a few days off, the kids will be able to go home for a few days, and we’ll get right back into the soup again Monday.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at email@example.com.