Temple’s last three games have all been decided by one point. While it has emerged 2-1 from these contests, all of which it trailed at some point in the second half, the closeness of the games doesn’t correlate well with a team that has missed 20 free throws the past two games.
The Owls haven’t set themselves up for success due to their lapses on defense. The reason the Owls can’t escape teams and coast in games with a larger margin of victory is their defense.
“We are not playing great basketball at this point, we need to find a way to get our defense much more solid,” coach Fran Dunphy said on Feb. 6.
Temple ranks 12th out of 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference in total team defense. Dunphy attributed his team’s defensive performances to a failure to get to spots quick enough, allowing opposing post players to have their way with the Owls. Temple allowed 23 points to Charlotte senior forward Chris Braswell on Feb. 6 in a game the 49ers shot a season high 60.4 percent from the field on Feb. 6.
“Charlotte obviously shot it very well,” Dunphy said after the game. “Some of that is them, a lot of it is us. Our defense really needs a lot of work at this point. We need to do our work earlier on the post-up guys, we are struggling with that.”
Temple responded by allowing Dayton to shoot 48 percent in a 72-71 Owls’ victory on Feb. 9. The win against Dayton was the third consecutive game that the Owls have allowed their opponents to shoot a higher percentage than them.
“Right now teams are shooting such high percentages because they are not shooting jump shots, they are pounding it inside,” Wyatt said after the Charlotte win. “If you shoot a lot of shots in there you are going to make a lot of them. We need to do a better job in there just battling and getting in better positions and I think we will be fine.”
Temple’s inability to get to its defensive spots early enough has led the Owls to taking more fouls, especially among its inside players. Redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee, the team’s leader in fouls at 3.3 per game, fouled out of the team’s last contest. This, coupled with senior forwards Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Scootie Randall and Jake O’Brien all having four fouls in the contest, left the Owls with thin depth down the stretch of the tightly-contested game. It was the second consecutive game that O’Brien, Hollis-Jefferson and Lee all had four or more fouls.
“We are not doing our work early enough, we are playing behind too many guys,” Dunphy said.
Someone that could provide inside help on defense is freshman forward Devontae Watson. The 6-foot, 10-inch, 210-pound recruit from Ambridge, Pa., has played in four games this season, totaling 10 minutes of action. Against Alcorn State on Dec. 17, he received six minutes of action, totaling four points, three blocks and four rebounds, all career highs. He has played two minutes since.
“Devontae is working real hard at it,” Dunphy said. “He is not quite ready yet, but it is coming. Every day is better and better. He would have helped us defensively. The way we were playing anybody would have helped us defensively.”
While Watson is regarded as the most raw talent of the three freshmen on the team, he is one of only two high school players ever to record more than 1,000 points, rebounds and blocks in his career. Freshman guard Quenton DeCosey has totaled 171 minutes while freshman forward Daniel Dingle has seen a recent increase in playing time, giving him 10 more minutes than Watson on the season.
Temple will have to look for an answer to fix its defense when it continues conference play against Duquesne on Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Liacouras Center. The Dukes’ two highest scoring players are guards, and they have the second-to-last ranked field goal percentage offense in the A-10.
Still, Dunphy knows that Temple must find a solution to its defensive struggles if it wants to push itself back into postseason contention.
“We are not a very good defensive team at this point,” Dunphy said. “We need to get it back.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.