The men’s basketball team has allowed just 54.2 points per game.
With 14.7 seconds remaining in Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Penn State, freshman forward Rahlir Jefferson took an offensive foul from Nittany Lions’ freshman forward Bill Edwards.
That defensive stop, along with Jefferson’s timeout call and senior guard Ryan Brooks’ two free throws, sealed the 45-42 win for the Owls in the second-lowest scoring game in Liacouras Center history.
“I was just trying to stay on [Edwards],” Jefferson said. “He pushed me. I knew not to get too close where I was pushing him and going to foul him, so I got just close enough and left enough space between me and him so he pushed me off.”
“I thought there were a number of good things we did defensively,” coach Fran Dunphy added. “I hope that we’re getting better each game that we play. Certainly, defense is our strength right now.”
Brooks, who led all scorers with 19 points, drew the assignment of guarding Penn State junior guard Talor Battle in the second half (senior guard Luis Guzman and sophomore guard Juan Fernandez split time in the first half). Battle, who scored 28 points in the second half of Penn State’s 69-66 win against Virginia Nov. 30, shot 3-for-15 for the game and scored eight points – four in the first half and four in the second half. In the game’s critical last possession, after Brooks nailed two foul shots, Battle slipped on the court multiple times and never got a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
“I think you have to [enjoy playing defense as much as being a go-to scorer],” Brooks said. “Being a leader of this team, I’ve accepted that role of stepping up to the plate and guarding the best player on each team. I look forward to it every game, the same as on the offensive end.”
Dunphy said Brooks is still balancing those two sides of his game.
“I was proud of how we guarded [Battle],” Dunphy said. “There’s a side to Ryan Brooks he’s still figuring out. Knowing that he is our best perimeter defensive player and then trying to be our leading scorer as well, that’s not an easy thing to do. You’d like moments when you can take him off the most difficult defensive assignment. [Luis Guzman] is pretty good at it. I thought Lou helped us greatly on the defensive end. I think we’ve got a really good team defense, and I thought today we were really good on our team defense.”
Brooks and the Temple defense responded after allowing Western Michigan’s senior guard David Kool to score 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting last Tuesday in a 76-70 Owls win. Only Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney had scored more points – 32 – against the Owls this season, and no opponent had scored more than the Broncos’ 70 points, even then-No.20 Georgetown and Saint John’s in their two wins earlier this season against Temple.
“I like to think we are a pretty good defensive basketball team, but I do not think you would have said that if you watched us in the first half [of the Western Michigan game],” Dunphy said afterward. “We did come around in the second half. In the second half, we defended better. We found Kool a little bit more, and we did not foul him as much.”
Through eight games this season, Temple has allowed its opponents to average 54.2 points per game on 37.2 percent shooting from the field, including 23.1 percent shooting from 3-point range, which is good for the sixth best 3-point defense in the nation. The two opponents who have actually shot the best from the field against the Owls – Siena and Western Michigan – have both lost, and the opponent who has drained the most shots from 3-point land – Delaware – lost by 20 points in the season opener. The Owls’ seventh-ranked scoring defense has held six opponents to 56 points or fewer and all eight of them below their season scoring averages. Right now, Temple’s defense has posted the lowest scoring average by opponents in school history since the post-shot clock era.
The Owls face Miami (Ohio) tonight. The RedHawks enter the matchup with a 2-5 record but lost Nov. 16 to then-No. 4 Kentucky by just two points and lost by seven points to Dayton Dec. 2. Miami (Ohio) shoots at a 46.5 percent clip from the field and 40.8 percent from beyond the arc. The RedHawks, who average 67.4 points per game, made 15 of their 26 3-pointers against Kentucky.
Temple wraps up its schedule before break with a Big 5 meeting against No. 3 Villanova Dec. 13. The undefeated Wildcats average 82.4 points per game and will be playing their first true road game of the season not at a neutral site.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.