Penn had the week off before playing Temple on Saturday at The Palestra.
The Quakers came out the gates sluggish — shooting 30 percent from the field in the first half.
But Penn coach Steve Donahue didn’t blame his team’s time off for its 60-51 loss to Temple last weekend. He said the Owls (10-9, 2-5 American Athletic Conference) caused problems for the Quakers with their length and size on defense.
“I think they are an NCAA team,” Donahue said of the Owls. “They just got to figure out how to keep it going consistently. When they play well, that’s as good as a team there is. I think they got better [Saturday.] They figured out a way with a team that is scrappy and trying to really outwork them.”
The Owls now sit in a familiar territory during coach Fran Dunphy’s 12-year tenure with the program.
In three of the seven times the Owls have made the NCAA Tournament under Dunphy, they hovered around a .500 record 19 games into the season.
It occurred most recently during the 2015-16 season. Temple started the season 11-8 and finished 10-4 to become regular season champions of The American and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Dunphy doesn’t reflect on the past much, but senior forward Obi Enechionyia sees similarities in the 2015-16 team and Temple’s current squad.
“That team had a lot of talent as well and we found a way to put it all together at the end and make the tournament,” Enechionyia said. “I see nothing different from this team. So I think we can do that if we stay together and keep pushing.”
After the Owls picked up their eighth loss of the 2015-16 season to East Carolina on Jan. 27, 2016, they ripped off a five-game winning streak in the thick of conference play. Enechionyia averaged 12.8 points per game and shot 45.4 percent during that winning streak.
Temple qualified for the NCAA Tournament later that season and lost to the University of Iowa, 72-70, in the first round.
The Owls have won three of their past four games after going on a five-game losing streak from Dec. 22 to Jan. 7. Over the past four games, Enechionyia has averaged 14.2 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting from the field and grabbed 7.5 rebounds per game.
Enechionyia found a rhythm shooting during Temple’s 14-1 second-half run against the Quakers on Saturday. He nailed a 3-pointer from the wing with Penn sophomore forward AJ Brodeur’s hand in his face to give Temple a 33-26 lead.
While the Owls have been the victor as of late, Dunphy would like to see their half-court offense improve.
“The ball is still getting a little too stuck, especially early [Saturday,] I thought,” Dunphy said. “Luckily our defense held together, so that there wasn’t a big swing in the action. But we just were really stagnant I thought, and that’s obviously on me and all our senior leadership. … We can play better on the offensive end.”
Sophomore center Damion Moore has missed the past four games with a sprained right ankle. He wasn’t wearing a boot on his foot against the Quakers on Saturday, however, he didn’t see any action.
Dunphy said he doesn’t have a timetable for his return.
Because of Moore’s absence and Temple playing opponents like Southern Methodist and Tulsa who like to stretch the floor, Dunphy has rotated smaller lineups featuring freshman forward J.P. Moorman II.
Moorman played a career-high 26 minutes against the Quakers and finished with four points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and one turnover.
After winning three close games, does Dunphy think the Owls are starting to turn things around? He hopes so.
“We’ve got an interesting matchup with Cincinnati on Wednesday, and they’re really a tough team,” Dunphy said. “Our league is really talented. Obviously, it’s a very good win for us [Saturday.]”