Struggling to find itself, Temple put together its first convincing performance of the season Saturday at the Liacouras Center. Though it turned out to be a tale of two halves, the Owls walked away with their first home victory of the season, a 67-56 triumph over Penn State.
Following a tough defeat at Arizona State last Tuesday, Temple came out scorching and did not look back. The Owls (2-4) used streaky shooting and tough interior play to put down a young Nittany Lions squad.
The Owls came out on fire, hitting 57 percent of their shots from the field in the first half. Going into the contest, they were shooting a horrid 34.6 percent. They cooled off in the second half, hitting just four of their 20 attempts from the floor, but nailed down their free throws.
“I was surprised,” Owls coach John Chaney said of the hot shooting early on. “I was very surprised.”
The difference in the game turned out to be a 19-2 Temple run at the end of the first half. It got started with junior power forward Nehemiah Ingram’s offensive rebound and putback with 6 minutes, 11 seconds to go.
For Ingram, it’s been a long time coming. An academic casualty for the past two years, he had the most productive game of his career, scoring six points and collecting six rebounds in 22 minutes. Temple needed productive play in the post with the absence of injured sophomore forward Antywane Robinson. Sophomore center Keith Butler chipped in nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.
“I think he felt a lot more comfortable being in there alone rather than feeding off others,” Chaney said of Ingram. “When we go into a flow where we have one center, it’s a lot easier for him. There’s more space.”
Butler, however, likes having Ingram out there with him because they draw equal attention from opposing defenses.
“It takes a lot of attention off me,” Butler said. “I think he can do it every night. He’s just got to get his confidence.”
The Owls capitalized off three straight Lions turnovers as freshman point guard Mario Taybron assisted senior guard David Hawkins on an alley-oop. Then Butler drained a baby hook shot and freshman guard Dustin Salisbery capped off the run with a three-pointer, giving the Owls a 45-28 halftime lead.
“We were hitting shots but we were executing a lot on offense,” said Hawkins, who led all scorers with 25 points. He sank all 10 of his free throws.
Penn State (3-4) entered the game shooting 28 percent in its last two contests and had failed to reach the 50-point mark. They finished the game shooting 41.5 percent from the field, but attempted only three free throws.
“We were just one shot away,” Lions coach Ed Dechellis said. “We just couldn’t get any of them to go down. We just had some unforced turnovers because we’re being young.”
The Lions finished the game with 19 turnovers, compared to just nine for the Owls.
With 15:27 left to play, Salisbery drove to the hoop, spun and hit a reverse lay-up, bringing the Owls faithful to their feet. Salisbery finished with six points and four steals. The lead would balloon to 20, and Temple did not look back.
For a 10-minute stretch in the second half, however, the Owls went without a bucket. But they sank 14 of 17 free throws to keep the Lions at bay.
“They just stepped up their defense and we just didn’t adjust to it in the second half,” Hawkins said.
Playing without Robinson – who suffered a severe left ankle sprain last Tuesday night against Arizona State – didn’t seem to hinder the Owls in their first game without him. He is expected to miss the next three weeks.
“Antywane is the one that we needed so much to keep us,” Chaney said. “He knows the rhythm of what we’re doing and he’s a guy who helps us. We lost him.”
Temple won’t have much time to savor this win as they face an undefeated South Carolina squad on Monday night. It will be their last home game until Jan. 14, when they host Rhode Island.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .