In a game again filled with career-highs, Dionte Christmas brought an asset to the men’s basketball team that can’t be measured on the stat sheet.
Seniors Dustin Salisbery and Dion Dacons had career performances as Temple topped Western Michigan, 76-71, Tuesday at the Liacouras Center. Salisbery totaled 34 points and Dacons snagged 15 rebounds.
But it was Christmas who provided the missing spark in a physical, turnover-filled contest.
With the Owls trailing 52-45 with 10 minutes remaining, Christmas hit a three-pointer from the right wing as a foul by Derek Fracalossi knocked him to the floor. Christmas connected on the foul shot to complete a four-point play.
Moments later, the sophomore forward tipped the ball loose from Jon Workman, who momentarily recovered. But Christmas dove at the ball and again knocked it free. Owls’ forward DaShone Kirkendoll scooped it up and drained a three to tie the game at 54.
“I heard some of my teammates telling me on the bench that I’m like the engine of the team,” Christmas said. “Once I start playing well, getting hyped and getting rowdy, the team can feed off of that. So that’s what I do. I come out there with the energy that the team needs.”
Christmas came up big in the second half, but he was ailing not too long before. Battling flu-like symptoms, he took an IV prior to the game. At halftime, Christmas needed oxygen to catch his breath.
Only four of his 21 points came before the break, but Christmas could credit the seniors for keeping the game close.
Salisbery and Dacons provided enough grit to send the Owls to the break on top, 30-29, after a first half filled with turnovers, bad passes and fouls.
Salisbery took the bulk of the Owls’ shots – and made the majority of them – as his teammates struggled to find the net.
“He’s a brilliant athlete; a talented, talented guy,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “There were stretches where we were doing a poor job running our offense – some of that was us, a lot of that was Western Michigan. I thought they did a great job on defense. But he was posting, which is not part of our game plan.”
Dacons picked up the slack on defense, grabbing 11 boards, nine of them defensive.
“I don’t think he can play any better to be honest with you,” Dunphy said. “He did some things that were just terrific tonight. He got every tough rebound. He guarded well. He covered for other people’s mistakes.”
The Broncos (3-5) limited the Owls to just two points in the first five minutes of the second half and gradually built a 50-42 lead midway through the second frame.
That’s when Christmas did his thing.
“He’s only a sophomore, but right now he’s playing like he’s a senior,” Salisbery said. “He’s a tough kid. Coming into this year, he knew he was going to have a bigger role with Wayne [Marshall] and Mark [Tyndale] being out.”
After Christmas’ two clutch plays midway through the second half, he notched 10 points to help conclude the Owls’ comeback.
Salisbery ultimately handed the Owls a lead they would not relinquish when he hit a jumper with 6:50 remaining to push the score to 58-56.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.