Temple men’s basketball set for NIT first round

No. 5 Temple will play No. 4 Penn State on Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania.

The Owls cheer from the sideline during the Owls’ 85-57 win against UConn on Jan. 28 at the Liacouras Center. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple will be a No. 5 seed in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament. The Owls (17-15, 8-10 American Athletic Conference), who entered Selection Sunday on the NIT bubble, will face No. 4 Penn State (21-13, 9-9 Big 10 Conference) in the first round on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania. The game will air on ESPNU.

The winner will advance to face the victor of the game between No. 1 University of Notre Dame and No. 8 Hampton University on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

The first three rounds of the tournament are hosted by the higher-seeded school. The NIT culminates with the semifinals on March 27 and the finals on March 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Coach Fran Dunphy said a chance to play in the NIT would benefit the sophomores and freshmen.

That group of players was not yet on the team when Temple made its most recent postseason appearance, a first-round exit in the 2016 NCAA Tournament against the University of Iowa at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

“It’s another opportunity to play,” Dunphy said. “We’ll have more practices. Any time you get these kids together again, it’s terrific.”

The NCAA has changed a few rules for this year’s NIT in hopes of providing data for the committees governing the rules, competition and oversight as it considers future changes for all of Division I.

Among the changes, games will be broken into four 10-minute quarters — just like Division I women’s basketball — instead of two 20-minute halves. There won’t be one-and-one free-throw opportunities. Instead, each team will shoot two free throws starting with the fifth foul of each quarter.

In addition, the free-throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, which is the width used by the NBA.

A change that will affect both Penn State and Temple because of their styles of play is the decision to move the 3-point line back approximately 20 inches to the distance used by the International Basketball Federation in competitions like the Olympics.

The Nittany Lions’ 38.4 3-point percentage ranks 42nd in Division I. Temple leads The American in 3-point attempts.

Senior forward Obi Enechionyia, Temple’s third-leading scorer, takes 56.6 percent of his field-goal attempts from 3-point range.

“We have pro lines at our court at McGonigle Hall, so they shoot pro 3-pointers often enough but this is just another further shot,” Dunphy said. “But it also affects how you’re going to prepare defensively as well.”

This will be Temple’s 19th NIT appearance overall and its second in the past four seasons. The Owls won NIT titles in 1938 and 1969.

The last time the Owls played in the NIT, they were snubbed from the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Despite having eight wins against top-100 Ratings Percentage Index teams and a No. 34 RPI, Temple missed the NCAA Tournament as the first team left out of the field.

The Owls continued their season as a No. 1 seed in the NIT. By virtue of being one of the top four seeds, they got to host every NIT game until their semifinal loss to the University of Miami at Madison Square Garden.

This year, because Temple is a No. 5 seed, it will start the tournament on the road. The Owls didn’t win their first road game until Jan. 10 against Southern Methodist and finished the season with a 4-9 record in away games.

Penn State had a 14-4 record at home this season, including wins against NCAA Tournament teams Ohio State University and the University of Montana. The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State, which is the No. 17 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, three times, once at home.

For the teams’ most recent matchup, Penn State lost to Temple at the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Penn State will make its second postseason appearance in coach Pat Chambers’ seven-year tenure.

The Nittany Lions have seven players who went to high school in Southeastern Pennsylvania, many of whom Temple recruited, Dunphy said. Three of Penn State’s four leading scorers are graduates of Roman Catholic High School at Broad and Vine streets.

Sophomore guard Tony Carr, who is projected to be a late first-round or early second-round 2018 NBA Draft pick by Sports Illustrated, leads the Nittany Lions with 19.9 points per game. Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens averages 14.9 points per game.

“I really like their team,” Dunphy said. “They have some good wins this year. It’s a great challenge for us, so I’m looking forward to it.”

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