For nearly 15 minutes of game time, Temple senior Josh Brown sat on the sidelines. Literally.
Because St. Joe’s didn’t have a stationary bike for him to use, Brown stayed loose by sitting on the court beside the Owls' bench, stretching his left leg as Temple fought back from an early deficit.
And with 6:29 left in the first half, Brown checked in for the first time this season, contributing to the Owls' 78-72 win over Big 5 rival Saint Joseph's on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).
If you ask Brown though, he wasn’t too hyped for this game because of the influence of his teammates.
“These guys kind of made it just another game for me,” Brown said. “They just kept me even-keeled, kept my jitters down and it was just another game for me out there.”
The senior captain, who worked his way back after suffering an Achilles injury during offseason workouts, injected himself straight into the action late in the first half. Brown looked himself, not seeming hobbled or hesitant while staring down a sold-out Hagan Arena crowd, not to mention a youthful St. Joe’s team. The Owls' leader made an impact on and off the ball offensively while adding an edge to Temple's defense, including an impressive block in the second half.
A minute after entering, Brown drained a long jumper with his foot on the line. Just before the end of the half, he scored for the last time in the game, finishing with four points.
Coach Fran Dunphy said the original plan was to limit Brown to five minutes in each half, but the senior got 14 total minutes, playing 7½ minutes in the final half.
“I’m delighted that Josh Brown played,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “Absolutely delighted. These kids get 120 opportunities and for that kid to come back from whatever that injury was that quickly, I’m delighted because he’s a nice kid as everyone that represents Temple is because of Fran. … What better way than to be in a Philadelphia game your first time out.”
Off to a 5-2 start, the Owls have oftentimes been carried by their young core, particularly freshmen Alani Moore II and Quinton Rose alongside sophomore Shizz Alston. However, with the return of Brown, the upperclassmen made the biggest impact in the road win.
Temple overcame its slow start thanks to some lights-out shooting from junior Obi Enechionyia. The 6-foot-10 forward presented a matchup nightmare for the Hawks, making 6 of 10 shots before the break, including a 4-for-4 mark from beyond the arc. Martelli compared the junior to the Hawks’ recent graduate, Isaiah Miles, a stretch-forward who can’t be guarded by a traditional forward or center.
“I try to be that type of player [like Miles] and cause problems for the other team,” Enechionyia said. “I think that opens a lot of opportunities not just for myself but for my teammates. When they have to focus on a guy more than usual, guys get open.”
Despite a cold start to the second half for Enechionyia, the junior came on at the end. With Temple up just one point in the final two minutes, Enechionyia found his way open for a three. While it rimmed out, Daniel Dingle — the only senior to start for either team — produced a key tip-in.
“The Dingle tip-in to me was the play,” Martelli said. “We had done a really good job really on everybody but Obi, but plays at the rim, just leaving some plays out there. … Plays at the rim, to me, were the deciding factor.”
Enechionyia then finished off the Hawks with a block on one end and a dagger from three to produce the 78-72 final margin.
In a similar situation to the Owls, the Hawks have had to rely on a young core after losing DeAndre' Bembry and Miles from last season. Despite a third straight loss, St. Joe's acquitted itself well in front of a raucous home crowd.
The Hawks' starting backcourt made the biggest noise as Saint Joseph's made the Big 5 game a back-and-forth contest in the final 20 minutes. Junior Shavar Newkirk and sophomore Lamarr Kimble combined for 34 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds, making 7 of 10 from three. Newkirk had 22 points, his fourth straight game with at least 20 points.
Each time Temple sought to put away the Hawks in the second half, St. Joe's would respond with a key run. Martelli pointed out that his squad reversed an early-season trend of losing the first five minutes of the second half, cutting into Temple’s three-point first-half lead despite the Owls making their first four shots after the break.
While Temple’s upperclassmen would finish off St. Joe’s, the Owls’ freshmen made an impact yet again. Rose dazzled with his court vision off the bench, dishing three assists to go with a 14-point effort. Thanks to Rose and Brown, Temple’s bench outscored St. Joe’s, 22-9.
After the hard-fought matchup, neither team gets a reprieve from Big 5 action in its next game. St. Joe’s makes the short trip to the Pavilion for a date with No. 2 Villanova while Temple returns home to face Penn.
With his first game home on Saturday, Brown has the chance to keep taking a step forward in his recovery and possibly extend his minutes. After topping the Hawks, the senior guard sat at the podium with a large grin. When asked about the ice on his left leg, Brown smiled even wider while referencing another Philly basketball player who returned from injury this year.
“It’s just protocol,” Brown said about the ice. “Trusting the process, that’s all it is.”