Obi Enechionyia was tired of seeing Wisconsin stud forward Ethan Happ get easy buckets in the paint and dominate the glass.
So Enechionyia took over the defensive assignment on Happ as head coach Fran Dunphy decided to switch up his lineup. Dunphy put four guards and Enechionyia out on the floor. The adjustment changed the complexion of the game.
Enechionyia’s two blocks on Happ in the final two minutes and Shizz Alston Jr.’s four clutch free throws were what the Owls needed to secure a 59-55 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday night (see observations).
This was a good way to rebound defensively for Temple, especially after a performance last Sunday against George Washington when the Owls allowed the Colonials to shoot 60 percent from the floor in a 71-67 loss.
In the long-awaited home opener for Temple, Wisconsin shot just 41 percent from the field and made only 5 of 20 three-point attempts.
“I would say this was one of our better defensive performances,” Enechionyia said. “We really focused on that this week after the George Washington loss. We knew we had to step up on that end and stop guys, which we didn’t do on Sunday. [Better defense] was the emphasis all week and it worked tonight.”
The biggest concern for the Owls on the defensive end was trying to figure out how to guard the 6-10 Badgers forward.
Happ, a third-team All-American in 2016-17, had his way on the glass and in the paint for the majority of the game as he ended up scoring 23 points and grabbing six rebounds. He was the only player in double figures for Wisconsin and the guy the Badgers looked to for production in crunch time.
“Ethan Happ is a pretty good player as we all know,” Enechionyia said. “I was playing the five, so I had to guard him and did what I could to stay straight up and contest every shot to the best of my ability. He’s a tough guard and we were able to finish out well.”
Enechionyia, who added 11 points and seven rebounds, had the final say in the matchup. In total, he blocked four shots and made Happ earn every bucket late in the second half. His defensive presence sparked great energy and helped quiet an unexpectedly large Wisconsin fan presence.
“In my eyes, I feel like Obi is just as good as and even better than Happ,” Alston said. “I feel like Obi can be an All-American also and I feel like Obi showed it down the stretch. He made some great plays for us and he blocked a couple of shots. Obi showed his worth down the stretch.”
Record-setting Alston clutch at the charity stripe
Ever since he was a kid, Alston idolized Temple great Lynn Greer.
On Wednesday night, Greer was in attendance for Temple’s home opener as he watched Alston break one of his Temple records.
By making all six of his free throws against Wisconsin, Alston surpassed Greer for the most consecutive free throws made in Temple history with 52. Greer’s mark was 49 straight set in March 2001.
“Getting that record means a lot,” Alston said. “I looked up to Lynn growing up and was at almost every one of his home games when he played here, so it means a lot to me. It means a lot to get the record while he was here.”
Temple has always been in Alston’s blood. His father, Levan Alston Sr., played for the Owls in the mid-1990s.
While it doesn’t seem like it, this was a redemption story for Alston. Alston, who finished with a team-high 22 points, air-balled a wide-open three-pointer with 27 seconds left in the game and the Owls up two. This gave the Badgers one last chance to tie the game, which resulted in a missed three by Kobe King.
“I was a little too wide open on that shot,” Alston said. “I’ve got to get in a little better shape, too. Wisconsin grinds it out, so I was tired and I didn’t get my legs under me on that shot. I just knew I had to make up for that and not let my teammates down.”
Alston picked himself up and sealed the game with those four clutch free throws.
It’s a good thing for the Owls that he was the one at the stripe. Outside of Alston, the Owls shot 2 for 9 from the line, something Dunphy said can’t happen if you want to win games late.
“Shizz has that part of the game down pretty good,” Dunphy said. “I was actually disappointed he didn’t get fouled so that we didn’t have to throw the ball in bounds. You feel pretty confident as he gets to the line and I’m sure he does as well.”