STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—Imagine your team’s best player scoring two points.
Now imagine that happening on the road against a team from the Big Ten.
But imagine winning the game.
Because that’s exactly what happened to the men’s basketball team last Saturday against Penn State.
With senior guard Dionte Christmas netting just a bucket, senior guard Semaj Inge and junior guard Ryan Brooks stepped up to lead the Owls to a 65-59 win over the Nittany Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Inge’s team-high 19 points were also a career high, and Brooks, who, like Christmas, picked up two quick fouls in the first half, added 15 points in the effort.
“We didn’t have Dionte a lot in the first half, so I think everybody did a good job [filling in], especially the young guys,” Inge said. “[We were] just trying to stem the tide until we were able to get him back.”
The Owls did more than that, cutting a deficit as large as six into a lead as large as seven with Christmas spending a bulk of the first half next to coach Fran Dunphy on the bench.
The way the Cherry and White played was a night-and-day difference from their showing against Miami (Ohio) last week at the Liacouras Center.
“I felt like we had a little bit of that last game against Miami of Ohio, where we caught ourselves standing and watching,” Inge said. “But with [Christmas] out of the game, we had no choice but to make hard cuts and make good decisions with the basketball.”
That style continued into the second half, as the Owls toyed with the Nittany Lions before going on a 15-5 run to close out the game.
The run was largely aided by Inge and sophomore forward Lavoy Allen, who netted 11 points and 10 rebounds in the effort.
Allen, who missed the Buffalo game Nov. 29 and didn’t start the Miami (Ohio) game Dec. 3 because of a thumb injury, said it’s no longer a problem.
“Nah, it feels fine,” he said.
Christmas, meanwhile, for perhaps the first time this season, was simply just a supporting player.
“I think he’s learning and understanding that it’s not the critical mass that we need from him [to] make shots all the time,” Dunphy said. “We need him to play the total game: take care of the ball, [rebounding]. We have to play as a team, and he knows he’s just a part of that.”
Point Guard Dilemma
With heavily hyped incoming freshman guard Juan Fernandez set to come to Temple as soon as the semester ends, the point guard position could see a shake-up.
But for now, it’s Inge’s spot to lose.
Even though junior Luis Guzman began the year with the job, Inge still started alongside him due to the injuries to Allen and senior center Sergio Olmos in the frontcourt.
And perhaps the equal playing time and sharing of the point guard duties led Dunphy to choose Inge once Allen and Olmos were both healthy and in the starting lineup.
It also appears to be something the Owls’ third-year coach will stick with.
“Yea, we’ll see,” Dunphy said. “[Guzman] is going to be a contributor, but it may not be in a starting role, and hopefully he can handle that. You got to understand that it’s not about you individually, it’s about the team and what we think is the best [option] on a given game.”
How will this affect Guzman, a player who started 27 of 33 games last season and the first six of this season?
Not too much, his coach said.
“I can’t imagine it’s a big deal for him if he sits down and thinks about it,” Dunphy said.
Much has been said about the Owls’ slate this season, one that includes just 11 home games and road dates against a couple of teams many say Temple shouldn’t be playing.
Add that to the upcoming tilts against powerhouses like Tennessee, Kansas and Villanova, and the Owls are in for a bumpy ride to Atlantic Ten Conference season.
“We have no breathers, and we’re probably not going to have any,” Dunphy said. “That’s just the way it is. But the opportunity for our program to come to Penn State is phenomenal. They’ll come back to us [next year]. That’s phenomenal.”
And scheduling teams of that nature was no accident.
“For us, as a basketball program, we want to play the best,” Dunphy said. “To have a Kansas, Tennessee, Penn State, Duke last year, come to our facility, that’s what we want.”
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.