Temple used a week off to get healthy and work on shooting after its last loss.
Saturday’s win against Rhode Island put a lot of worries to rest for Temple coach Fran Dunphy and the men’s basketball team.
The last time Temple played before Saturday’s matchup with the Rams was back on Feb. 6, when the Owls fell to Richmond, 71-54. Playing without sophomore guard Juan Fernandez, the Owls shot 32.1 percent from the field, including 1-for-10 from 3-point range. The loss marked the second time in 10 days that the Cherry and White had fallen to a top-tier Atlantic Ten Conference team. The Owls had lost to Charlotte, 74-64, on Jan. 27.
The time off allowed Temple to focus on fixing the mistakes it made against the Spiders. After shooting so abysmally in Richmond, the Owls decided to force the issue in the paint, Dunphy said.
“To be honest with you, that’s the game plan all the time,” Dunphy said. “I think we looked more for [sophomore center Micheal Eric] today than we have in a while. He came through. He did a great job inside today.”
Eric, who scored 17 of his career-high 19 points in the first half, combined with junior forward Lavoy Allen to shoot 17-for-20 from the field. On the whole, the Cherry and White outscored the Rams, 50-14, in the paint.
The Owls as a whole also appeared to be more energized, Dunphy said.
“It would be hard to tell you that [the time off] didn’t help after the way we played today,” Dunphy said. “It was a benefit to us. We actually took off Sunday and Tuesday. I think it really helped us. I thought we were much fresher than we had been.”
The break was far from easy, as the Owls were given plenty of time to learn from their coach, senior guard Ryan Brooks added.
“It was a kind of long week, in a positive way,” Brooks said. “Coach Dunphy was on us like crazy all week, hooting and hollering like your coach should. He challenged us individually and as a team. He preached that we would need to come into this game more mentally and physically tough than Rhode Island was. We had to maintain our focus.”
“We were able to get back to square one a little bit and clean up some things,” Brooks added. “I think tonight we came out to a very good start, and hopefully, we can keep this going.”
Fernandez didn’t start, but the time off did allow him to recover enough to come off the bench. The 6-foot-4-inch Argentine’s presence on the court opened things up for other players, especially Brooks.
“It’s good for Ryan to have Juan out there,” Dunphy said. “[Juan] sees so much of the floor. It’s a nice thing to have him back. Juan looked terrific to me.”
The time off allowed the Owls to accomplish something they had not done since the Jan. 20 win versus Xavier – beat a Top 5 A-10 team. By doing so, the Cherry and White not only helped their ranking in the national polls, they put some distance between themselves and the Rams in the standings. Four A-10 teams get a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Rams were a half game behind the Owls for the fourth seed entering the game.
While Temple might have loftier goals than in past seasons, the first objective still should be to win the A-10 title. To help their odds, the Owls need to secure one of the four first-day byes. The last time a team that did not receive a bye won the tournament was in 2006, when Xavier accomplished the feat.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.