Dalton Balthaser

Clutch defense, record FTs give Temple win in long-awaited home opener

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Clutch defense, record FTs give Temple win in long-awaited home opener

BOX SCORE

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.”

Temple-Wisconsin observations: A home opener worth the wait

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Temple-Wisconsin observations: A home opener worth the wait

BOX SCORE

Temple’s long-awaited home opener finally came and went, and the Owls were able to welcome their fans back into the Liacouras Center with open arms on Wednesday night.

The Owls, fueled by stifling defense late, held off the Wisconsin Badgers, 59-55. Shizz Alston Jr. sealed the game with four free throws.

Alston finished with a total of 22 points to lead Temple. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ led all scorers with 23 points.

Obi Enechionyia added four blocks, including two of them in the final two minutes to help the Owls close out the Big Ten opponent.

Temple moved to 5-2 with the win, while Wisconsin dropped to 4-6.

• After going back and forth for 38 minutes of the contest, the game was decided by clutch free throws from Alston. In fact, Alston has now made 52 consecutive free throws dating back to 2016, setting the all-time mark at Temple. The previous record was 49 straight by Lynn Greer. Alston went 6 of 6 at the charity stripe, four of them big ones in the final 1:09 of regulation.

• Coming into the game, Happ, a third-team All-American last season, was the only player among Power Six conferences averaging at least 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game.

• From the beginning of the game, Happ made his presence felt and showed why he is one of the best bigs in the country. He was dominant on the glass, in the paint and in the pick-and-roll game. Happ (23 points, six rebounds and three assists) also showed his mid-range game, as well, and was the only Badger in double-figure scoring. Wisconsin looked to him early and often in the post, and Happ took advantage of the Owls' inexperienced bigs in Damion Moore and Ernest Aflakpui.

• Temple definitely missed Josh Brown’s leadership last season. The redshirt senior missed a majority of the 2016-17 season after an Achilles injury kept him on the sidelines. With him on the court, the Owls look more organized and composed. He is a glue player that makes everyone around him better and his experience is vital for a team made up of nine underclassmen. 

• Moore provided a jolt for the Owls when he entered the game at the 11-minute mark of the first half. His two quick buckets helped give the Owls a 23-20 lead at the 7:28 mark. Moore is just two games removed from his double-double against South Carolina in which he finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

• The Owls had to take a lot of shots at the end of the shot clock but Alston made two jump shots and Enechionyia connected on a three-pointer. Converting these situations helped the Owls hold a 31-28 lead at halftime.

• With 16:35 left in the second half, Brown took a shot to the face, specifically the nose area, from Wisconsin guard Brevin Pritzl, and was holding his head back as he walked to the sidelines. Alston converted both free throws from the Flagrant 1 foul. Brown would return at the 10:57 mark.

• Temple relied heavily on three-point shots. However, they ultimately fell flat from long range, making only 3 out of 14.

• Alston showed his shooting ability from mid-range and from inside the paint. The Owls have quite a backcourt in Brown and Alston, and all of Temple’s guards have solid ability to impact the game on both sides of the floor. The Owls will be in good hands once Brown graduates, with Alston (junior), Quinton Rose (sophomore) and Alani Moore II (sophomore) in the fold.

• Rose (nine points) exhibited why he is one of the most exciting players in the Big 5. His athleticism is what stands out, as well as how strong he is off the dribble. He took a steal and slammed in a two-handed dunk to electrify the Liacouras Center. At 6-foot-8 for a guard, Rose is extremely talented with a bright future.

• Temple’s student section was loud and engaged, and because of overflow, the Owls had to send some to the upper level of the arena. They had to be loud since Wisconsin fans surrounded the majority of the Liacouras Center and had a large presence.

• This is Temple’s first victory over Wisconsin since Dec. 3, 2003, when the Owls won, 70-67, in double overtime. 

• Temple’s next game will be at the Liacouras Center against Big 5 rival St. Joe’s on Saturday. Wisconsin’s next game, also Saturday, is at home against Marquette.

NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles take big step back after loss

NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles take big step back after loss

After blowing out the Bears, 31-3, in Week 12, the Eagles traveled to Seattle for a Sunday night matchup against the Seahawks. The Birds lost for the first time since Week 2 after a disappointing performance, 24-10.

The loss to the Seahawks puts the Birds at 10-2. They now are tied with the Vikings for the best record in the NFC. They are also tied with the Steelers, Patriots and Vikings for the best record in the NFL.

Now the Eagles shift their attention to the 9-3 Los Angeles Rams for a Sunday afternoon matchup in L.A. 

Here’s a roundup of where the Eagles landed in this week's national power rankings after Week 13:

ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio: Down three spots to No. 4
Florio wrote, “Fly, Eagles, fly. Right into a Wolf Grey window.”

This was the first time since Week 2 in which the Eagles looked nervous and scattered on all fronts. Carson Wentz was missing throws he would have made earlier in the season and he just wasn’t as sharp. It doesn’t help that he was running from Seahawks pass rushers for the majority of the night. I don’t believe there is cause for concern unless they struggle against the Rams this week.

NFL.com's Elliot Harrison: Down one spot to No. 2
Harrison wrote, “The first dip in these here rankings since Week 3 for the Eagles — and the first time not in the top spot since Week 8. The Eagles have been perched atop the league's hierarchy because of their balance on offense and defense, as well as the MVP play of the quarterback. All three factions were marginalized by the Seahawks on Sunday night.”

This was the most points the Eagles' defense allowed since Week 2. The 24 points allowed were also matched in the Redskins, Giants and Chargers games in Week 1, Week 3 and Week 4, respectively. Russell Wilson has been having arguably his best season thus far and the Seahawks were able to take shots down the field in the passing game. 

USA TODAY: Down four spots to No. 5
USA TODAY wrote, “They're lucky NFL doesn't use college football playoff system. Philly's resume highly suspect with just one win against teams currently above .500.”

That one win against a team that is currently above .500 was the Week 6 victory over the Panthers. The Eagles were tested against the Seahawks and it showed. Yes, there were some situations that didn’t go their way like the Wentz fumble at the goal line and the Wilson “lateral” that actually was a forward pass. But in the end, the Eagles didn’t look good and will have a chance to right the ship against the Rams.

Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab: Down one spot to No. 2
Schwab wrote, “This is how quick the NFL can turn: The Eagles were on top of the world before they kicked off against the Seahawks on Sunday night. In an eight-day stretch, they could go from leading the NFL to needing help over the last three weeks to get a bye.”

Right now the Vikings would have the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage as a result of tiebreakers. Things could really change quickly with a loss to the Rams, so it is vital that the Eagles walk away from this West Coast road trip 1-1. The game against the Rams will say a lot about where the Eagles stand against the best teams in the NFL.

The Washington Post's Mark Maske: Down three spots to No. 4
Maske wrote, “The Eagles are still a very good team, even after the defeat in Seattle. They still have a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. But they might not be the conference’s Super Bowl favorite any longer.”

A strong defense and the emergence of Case Keenum and Adam Thielen have the Vikings as one of the best teams in the NFL. They have a decent chance to be the first team to host the Super Bowl and play in it as well. The key to the Eagles’ Super Bowl chances is playing all postseason games at the Linc. Having to travel to New Orleans, Minnesota or Seattle could pose problems for the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes.

ESPN: Down one spot to No. 2
ESPN wrote, “First-round pick Derek Barnett has 5.0 sacks this season, but the Eagles are getting big production from rookies they didn't even draft. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement has six touchdowns and Jake Elliott, who was drafted by the Bengals, has gone 19-of-23 on field goals, including a game-winning 61-yarder in Week 3.”

Speaking of big production, I think one of the best stories this year for the Eagles has to be wide receiver Nelson Agholor. He had seven receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, and his emergence after a terrible 2016 has been a great story to follow. The USC product has been making good on the Eagles taking him in the first round.