Temple men’s basketball playing ‘loose’ during win streak

Redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown (right) dribbles past Wichita State senior forward Rashard Kelly during the Owls’ 81-79 overtime win against the Shockers on Thursday at the Liacouras Center. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple scored fewer than 60 points for the fourth time in American Athletic Conference play in its 75-42 loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 24.

In the three games since, the Owls (13-10, 5-6 The American) have averaged 83 points per game. Temple recorded back-to-back games with 80 or more points for the first time this season after beating Connecticut on Jan. 28 and Thursday’s overtime win against Wichita State. The team continued that trend in Sunday’s 83-76 road win against Tulane.

The Owls had five double-figure scorers in their win against Wichita State, which is the No. 22 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. The game marked the first time the Owls have had five double-figure scorers since their win against Clemson University to clinch the Charleston Classic title in November.

“We’re telling people when they miss a shot, ‘Shoot the next one, stay aggressive, don’t settle for anything, just play your game,’” redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown said. “When guys do that and we’re loose like that, we’re pretty good.”

A perfect example of that is junior guard Shizz Alston Jr.’s performance against the Shockers. He started the game shooting 1-for-11 from the field, but he made the game-tying basket at the end of regulation. Alston also hit the go-ahead basket with less than one minute against Drexel on Dec. 16 when he shot 4-for-12 from the field.

Temple has now won three straight games after Sunday’s 83-76 win against Tulane. Thursday’s win against Wichita State put Temple back in the conversation for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Owls’ chances to earn an at-large NCAA Tournament bid jumped nearly 20 percent to 38.2 percent after their win against Wichita State. That is despite their four-game losing streak to start conference play.

Temple has winnable games on its schedule to close the regular season. The first of the final seven games is at home on Wednesday against East Carolina.

The Pirates are second to last in The American, have the 320th ranked offense out of 351 Division I teams and are second to last in 3-point percentage. Temple will also face South Florida, which is last in The American, Connecticut, which the Owls beat by 28 points, and Tulsa, which the Owls beat in January.

The Owls are No. 37 in the Ratings Percentage Index and have the top strength of schedule in Division I. They have a chance for NCAA Tournament resume-boosting wins in their final seven games. Temple has back-to-back games with Wichita State and Houston on Feb. 15 and 18. Both teams are in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projection from Monday. Temple’s hopes are still alive, Alston said.

“Every game means a lot now since we put ourselves in a position where we lost a couple of tight ones,” Alston said.

Taking care of the basketball has been key in the past three games. The Owls only had two turnovers in the second half and overtime against Wichita State.

The Owls have struggled in several offensive categories this season, but maintaining possession has been a constant strength. They rank eighth in The American in points per game and 3-point percentage and 10th in field-goal percentage but hold a much better mark as the 28th-best team in Division I in fewest turnovers per game.

Temple had fewer than 10 turnovers for the fifth time this season against Connecticut. The Owls had a season-low five turnovers, while UConn had 16. It contributed to Temple’s ability to take 12 more field-goal attempts.

“We talk about it every day,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ll stop a practice, like, ‘You can’t make that play.’ … You work at it every single day, and sometimes it takes great hold as it did against UConn.”

Temple also distributed the ball well against the Huskies with 20 assists on 31 made field goals.  The team topped its previous season-high against Tulane with 23 assists on 31 made field goals. Alston had a career-high 10 assists with only one turnover.

The Owls average 12.7 assists per game and have dished fewer than 10 assists in a game five times this season. They have a 1-4 record and an average margin of defeat of 19 points in those games, including their loss to Cincinnati last month and their 60-39 loss to Central Florida on Jan. 7.

Temple has a 10-5 record when it has 12 or more assists this season. In its five wins in its past six games, Temple has averaged 13.8 assists per game, higher than its season average.

A team meeting before last month’s win against Southern Methodist improved morale, Brown said.

“I know we had a couple of losses throughout these weeks, but the mindset, the competitive nature of the practice has been good and I think that we can build on that, continue on and hopefully string more wins along with that,” he said.

Evan Easterling
can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu Or you can follow Evan on Twitter @Evan_Easterling Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews

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