WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s hard to call any December game a must-win, but the men’s basketball team’s Sunday matchup with Maryland sure felt like one. Luckily for Fran Dunphy and company, the Owls defeated the Terrapins, 64-61.
Heading into last weekend’s Old Spice Classic, the Owls were undefeated and nationally ranked. A few days later, the Owls had two losses to their name and were no longer showing up on any major poll. The Cherry and White would go on to defeat Central Michigan on Wednesday, but looked bad in the opening half in a game they should have easily won. All of this factored into Sunday’s game, as the Owls needed a positive result to continue to right their ship.
Against Maryland, the Owls were expected to be in for a dogfight. The Terps had recently played tough against No. 3 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Illinois. On top of all of that, the game was being played in the nation’s capital, and while it was technically a neutral-site game, the crowd was comprised of almost entirely Maryland fans.
Temple showed up to play, though. The team looked dominant on defense as they held Maryland to 28.6 percent shooting. The Owls also showed offensive prowess as junior guards Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez looked more like their normal selves en route to 16 and 14 points, respectively. Meanwhile, senior forward Lavoy Allen recorded another double-double. Essentially, that’s the type of game Dunphy should expect from his team night in and night out.
The Maryland game isn’t going to be the last tough game for the Owls, however. In addition to this week’s matchup with the Hoyas, the Owls will travel to face Villanova and Duke, two nationally ranked squads, on the road.
Then there’s the in-conference schedule. Temple will go on the road to face Xavier and Dayton, two upper-echelon Atlantic Ten Conference teams that play especially well at home. Playing quality opponents is hardly new for the Owls. Even before Dunphy arrived, legendary coach John Chaney had a “we’ll play anybody, anywhere” mentality.
“We’ve got a tough schedule,” Fernandez said. “It might be one of the tougher schedules in the country. That only means we need to be ready every night. I think we proved it today. They came back in that second half. We’re not 100 percent yet, but we’re improving. Showing what we did today shows the start. Hopefully we’ll go from here.”
“We scheduled tough games, but [Maryland] is a program that’s going to come back to Philadelphia next year,” Dunphy added. “If we can get that quality opponent to come back to our home area … we’ll take it.”
The Owls likely won’t defeat all of these tough, out-of-conference foes, but simply competing against them will help the program. The level of competition in conferences like the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East Conference is higher than that of the A-10. Additionally, playing Duke and Villanova on the road will help the Owls get used to play in extremely hostile environments.
If the Owls do manage to secure some notches in their belts, the repercussions could be significant come March. A major part of a team’s NCAA tournament resumé is its rating percentage index. Temple ratings percentage index is currently No. 80. The Hoyas at No. 2 and the Blue Devils at No. 5 will help Temple’s RPI regardless of the result, but wins would obviously do more.
Wyatt makes strides
Sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt has been a great surprise for Temple so far this season. After barely playing last year, Wyatt has established himself as the first guard off the bench for the Owls. In most games, the team has looked to Wyatt to provide an offensive spark, but against Maryland, his impact came mostly on the defensive end.
Wyatt finished the game with a career-high four steals, including a crucial one in the last seconds of the game. After sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson turned the ball over, Wyatt jumped a Maryland passing route to steal the ball and complete the put-back. All in all, Wyatt, who averages 6.4 points and 1.4 steals per game, has been impressive, Dunphy said.
“He’s doing a really good job,” Dunphy said. “He really helped us push the ball up the floor a few times after those steals. It really helped us. He’s a terrific basketball player, and I think he’s learning how to play the defensive end, which has always been his shortcoming.”
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.