Temple’s opening against Central Florida looked like the complete opposite of last week’s lopsided loss to Houston.
The Owls (16-12, 8-8 American Athletic Conference) took a 16-0 lead in about eight minutes and didn’t lose their advantage in their 75-56 win against Central Florida (17-11, 8-8 The American) on Sunday at the Liacouras Center.
“We had two losses back-to-back, and we just wanted to make a statement, especially on senior night in our last home game,” freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis said. “We wanted to make a statement, and we don’t want our fans to have a nasty taste in their mouth for next season.”
Redshirt-senior forward Steve Leonard got the start over junior center Ernest Aflakpui because of Senior Day. Temple honored Leonard, senior forward Obi Enechionyia and redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown prior to tip-off against the Knights. Enechionyia had three points and six rebounds, while Brown finished with six points, three assists and two rebounds.
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills met with Temple and gave a speech prior to the game.
“‘If you’re name is called, just go out there and make the most of it,’” Leonard said Mills told the team.
That’s exactly what the walk-on did. Leonard opened the contest by scoring Temple’s first two baskets, which were both 3-pointers.
As Temple continued to cushion its lead in the second half, the student section chanted, “We want Steve! We want Steve!”
With one minute, 27 seconds left in the game, the students got their wish. Enechionyia fouled out and Leonard entered the contest. Leonard finished with six points on 2-of-3 shooting and grabbed one rebound in his five minutes of action.
“I was hoping to make one shot, and the fact that I got two is kind of a bonus for me,” Leonard said. “It was a great feeling, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
Steve Leonard https://t.co/meP3PF1V5b— Evan Easterling (@Evan_Easterling) February 25, 2018
Freshman forward De’Vondre Perry missed the game with a sprained left ankle. He is day-to-day, coach Fran Dunphy said.
Enechionyia and Aflakpui each picked up two fouls midway through first half. With Perry unavailable, sophomore center Damion Moore and freshman forward J.P. Moorman II replaced them on the floor.
Moore, who sustained a sprained ankle earlier this season and missed seven games, finished with nine points, three rebounds in 17 minutes — the most minutes he has played since recording his first career double-double against the University of South Carolina on Nov. 30. Moorman scored two points and collected 10 rebounds.
“I think it was tough for [Moore] to come back from that injury,” Enechionyia said. “The ankle injury was pretty bad. So you know he’s just been working to get back onto the court and to make an impact, which he did today. I’m impressed with his progress, and hopefully he just keeps it up and keeps improving in all aspects.”
Steve Leonard, Obi Enechionyia and Josh Brown https://t.co/I3TOvCPvtq— Evan Easterling (@Evan_Easterling) February 25, 2018
After Temple scored the game’s first 16 points, the Knights answered with a 10-4 run.
Redshirt-senior forward A.J. Davis started the run with a 3-pointer with 12:39 remaining in the first half. Davis scored a team-high 18 points on 3-of-6 shooting on 3-point attempts.
Temple held Central Florida’s leading scorer, redshirt-junior guard B.J. Taylor, to nine points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field.
Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. finished the contest with a team-high six assists. He also had 13 points, two rebounds and a steal. Two of Alston’s six assists came off alley-oops in transition.
One of the two went to sophomore guard Quinton Rose early in the second half, which brought Mills, who watched the game courtside, to his feet. Rose finished with a game-high 19 points plus five rebounds and five assists.
The Owls will finish their season on the road. Temple will travel to play Connecticut (13-15, 6-9 The American) in Storrs, Connecticut, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Then the Owls will close out the regular season against Tulsa (17-11, 10-6 The American) next Sunday.
Fran Dunphy https://t.co/Y57UhcJEq8— Evan Easterling (@Evan_Easterling) February 25, 2018