For a decade straight, Temple has never lost to Penn in men’s basketball.
That streak nearly came to an end Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
After trailing by as many 17 and by 11 midway through the second half, the Quakers pulled within two before the Owls scored the final six points of the game to survive Penn’s upset bid with an exciting 70-62 victory.
Shizz Alston Jr. led the way with 14 points while Obi Enechionyia and Alani Moore II had 12 point apiece for the Owls (6-2), who have now won five straight, four of which came right down to the wire.
“I’m hoping we have a certain something about us,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We were a little shaky but we found a way to maintain the lead.”
Ernest Aflakpui added 11 points and 11 rebounds for Temple, which improved to 3-0 in the Big 5 with a date against soon-to-be-No. 1 Villanova looming in 10 days for the city series title. The Owls have won 10 straight in their series with the Quakers.
“I’m grateful of where we are,” Dunphy said. “3-0 is a nice number in the Big 5.”
Senior swingman Matt Howard scored 19 points and freshman center AJ Brodeur had 17 points and seven rebounds for the rebuilding Quakers (2-4), who dropped their third straight and fell to 0-2 in the Big 5.
Trailing 47-36 midway through the second half, Penn reeled of a 10-3 run to pull within 50-46. The Quakers got within four twice more but Enechionyia followed with a jumper and an alley-oop slam to push Temple back ahead 58-50 with five minutes left.
After Brodeur blocked an Enechionyia shot and hit a layup to slice Temple’s lead to 64-62 with 1:12 left, the Owls didn’t let the Quakers score again to continue their mastery of their city rival.
“After six games, I’ve been extremely pleased with what we’re doing,” said Penn head coach Steve Donahue, a former assistant under Dunphy at Penn. “We’re not there yet but you can see it’s coming.”
Donahue was particularly pleased with Broduer, the prized piece of his first recruiting class who hasn’t at all looked overmatched in his first two Big 5 games and whose close-out block of Enechionyia was one of the game’s biggest defensive plays.
But even in such a daunting matchup against Enechionyia, Brodeur could have done more and perhaps even scored 25 to lead the Quakers to a win, according to Donahue.
“It’s his sixth college game,” the Penn coach said. “I think we’ll see him improve dramatically over the next couple of weeks and years. I think we’re gonna have one of the all-time greats, honestly.”
Whether it was because of Brodeur or Penn’s general defensive scheme, Enechionyia had a rare off night. The junior forward came into the contest averaging 21 points per game — second in the AAC — but missed all nine of his shot attempts in the first half.
For the game, he shot 5 for 17 from the field and 0 for 6 from 3-point range, where he had been particularly effective to start the season.
“It was going to come,” Dunphy said of Enechionyia’s clunker. “Teams are going to be playing him differently each and every game. They’re going to double him, run bigger guys at him. He has to learn to be an even better basketball player. He was a little bit out of sorts.”
Dunphy did admit that Enechionyia did do some good things, blocking five shots, scoring some key buckets down the stretch and sealing the win with a thunderous dunk to electrify the relatively small crowd that may have been more focused on Annapolis, where the Owls beat Navy for the AAC football championship.
And even when their star struggled, the Owls still managed to control the game, jumping out to a 14-2 lead and taking a 31-22 lead into halftime while holding the Quakers to just 29.2 percent shooting in the first half.
That kind of balance is a good sign for the Owls moving forward, especially when you consider top guard Josh Brown played only 11 minutes in his second game back from an Achilles tear.
“I thought Penn gave us everything we needed to make us a better basketball team,” Dunphy said. “We played with a lot of non-fear out there. Sometimes that hurts us. Today it helped us."