Mark Williams remembers looking up at the sold-out crowd at The Palestra before the Owls’ season opener against the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. He was a freshman about to start in his first college basketball game in a Saturday night Big 5 matchup. He wanted to take in the moment.
“I just was like, ‘I’m here,’” Williams, now a senior forward, said. “That’s when it really stuck in with me that this was the arrival.”
Sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. had a similar experience playing in front of 7,768 fans on Friday against Big 5 rival La Salle at the Liacouras Center. He made his fourth career start and impacted the game on both ends of the floor. Alston had three steals and scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and overtime to help the Owls get the win.
“That’s what I came to Temple for. … Big 5, Friday night, doesn’t get any better,” Alston said. “You can’t get this at any other school.”
Alston started 1-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free throw line before his layup with 4:56 left in the first half. He finished the night 0-for-5 from 3-point range and shot less than 33 percent from the field.
Alston recognized he wasn’t shooting well, so he tried to make an impact defensively. He got his second steal of the night with 1:35 left in overtime and scored a layup to put Temple up by seven points.
He stole the ball again with 14 seconds left in the game and made three of his last four free throw attempts to close out the game. Alston also had one of his two blocks in overtime.
“He’s got a better sense of who he is right now,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “It was not an easy freshman year for him, and then [sophomore guard] Trey Lowe gets hurt and [senior guard] Josh Brown gets hurt and he’s our only really experienced guy at all and he doesn’t have a lot of experience. But I think he picked up a lot tonight. I think he really came of age. Now as we move forward, he’s going to be expected to do even more for us.”
Dunphy has to rely on a young backcourt with Brown recovering from an Achilles tendon injury and Lowe redshirting this season. Before Friday, Alston was the only available Temple guard who had started a game. The only other guard with Division I experience was senior Mike Robbins, who has only played 14 games in his two seasons.
Two freshmen played more than 25 minutes in Friday’s Big 5 matchup, which is one of the hardest environments for a freshman, Alston said. He started in last season’s sold-out game against Villanova at the Liacouras Center. Alston didn’t score and had two turnovers in 14 minutes.
Alani Moore and Quinton Rose had more success against La Salle.
Moore became the first Temple freshman to start a season-opener since Williams, and the first Owls’ freshman guard to start a season opener since 2003. Moore scored eight points, collected two rebounds, added an assist and had no turnovers in 30 minutes.
Rose relieved Moore at the 12-minute, 59-second mark of the first half. Rose had 12 points, three rebounds and two blocks in his first college basketball game.
Both players made impact plays and had moments where they looked inexperienced. Moore made his first two shots, including a 3-pointer where he pump-faked to get the defender in the air and moved around him to get the open shot. He helped the Owls get out to an early eight-point lead. Redshirt-senior guard and forward Daniel Dingle said Moore “set the tempo” in the game.
Rose came in the game and took shots on his first two offensive possessions. He sunk his second attempt, a mid-range jumper that came after a crossover and drew some “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. Later in the first half, he played good help defense to block a shot from Explorers’ junior forward Yevgen Sakhniuk and set up a layup by Alston.
Dunphy liked how Rose read the play for the block, but also said the 3-pointer he took with 7:22 left in the first half that got blocked left him wondering what Rose was thinking about.
The Owls’ coach said the situation isn’t ideal, but the young guards both offer athleticism and shooting ability to the team.
“Last year, we had much different depth, so out of necessity you’re going to them,” Dunphy said. “Are you showing more confidence in them? Probably you are as a basketball coach and you’re living with some of the mistakes that they make. But they’re seemingly ready.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.