Do not bet on the Owls.
They truly are a team that is impossible to figure out.
Right when they appear to be heading in a definitive direction, they suddenly slam on the brakes and veer off onto a dirt road to some unknown destination.
After winning four out of their last five, the Owls seemed in prime position for putting together another late-season rally, something the Owl faithful have grown accustomed to.
The Owls led St. Joseph’s by one point at the half last Thursday and were up 42-41 with just under 14 minutes to play when Hawks point guard Jameer Nelson scored his first bucket of the game, giving his squad the lead.
The basket was followed by a halfcourt trap that galvanized the Hawks and snowballed into a 27-4 run, ultimately leading to the Owls demise in a 78-59 loss at the Palestra.
“It only takes about two or three minutes of bad basketball and that will bury you,” assistant coach Bill Ellerbee said after the loss.
Just two days after the meltdown at the Palestra, the Owls found themselves with a one-point advantage at the half against North Carolina State at the Liacouras Center.
The determined Owls stepped up their tenacity on defense, putting together a 19-0 run over a nine minute period to upset the Wolfpack, 76-54.
It was Temple’s first win over NC State in the series history.
Freshman point guard Maurice Collins led the Owls with 18 points and junior guard David Hawkins had 16 points and five assists.
Out of the three starting freshmen on the squad, Collins has really flourished.
He has acclimated himself to the point guard position, despite the fact that he never played the position at Simon Gratz High School.
Still, Collins has displayed a mature demeanor on the floor while utilizing his
smooth play to create his own shot off the dribble.
“Mardy’s been playing so much every game and he does a great job of handling the ball, getting us in our offenses, and scoring, too,” sophomore forward Hawley Smith said.
Collins is averaging 34 minutes a game and is third on the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game. With three-quarters of the season down, Collins’ role has been pivotal.
In his last four games, he is averaging 16 points and shooting over 50 percent.
Collins and his fellow freshmen, forward Antywane Robinson and center Keith Butler, have started all 22 games thus far.
And, though the path has been bumpy at times, the experience will continue to benefit them in the not-so-distant future.
“I try to get my freshmen to grow up quickly,” Chaney said.
“With the new guys and the way we started [the season] out on the road, it was real hard for them to get used to NCAA basketball,” junior guard David Hawkins said.
The big wins over Indiana, St. Bonaventure and N.C. State have shown what Temple is capable of, but blowout losses to Penn and St. Joseph’s and a bad loss to Duquesne have served as reminders that this team is not tournament-bound, barring a miracle come Atlantic 10 Tournament time.
“I guess we’ve learned a lot more about playing together,” Chaney said.
“Between the last two ball games, I would say that is true.”
The Owls have struggled all season without a natural point guard.
The offense many times has looked erratic and vulnerable, often leading to poor shooting.
However, a lot of the Owls’ success has depended upon the interior play of Butler and Robinson, who both average over five rebounds a game.
In essence, Temple lives and dies by its rebounding.
They are 0-12 in games in which they are out-rebounded, but 8-1 when they collect more boards than the opposition.
Midway through the first half against the Wolfpack, Robinson sustained an ankle injury and did not return.
X-rays came back negative, team officials said.
He could miss the next two to three weeks, which would put him out of action for the remainder of the regular season.
Any missed action by Robinson could severely affect the Owls, who are already lacking depth inside.
The win on Saturday against the Wolfpack gave the Temple basketball program its 1,598th victory.
The Owls are sixth all-time on the NCAA basketball wins list and could reach the 1,600 mark as soon as Feb. 23 at Fordham.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org