Fran Dunphy

Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

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Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

BOX SCORE

In every play, there are protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains. And some of us are drawn to the heroes while others revel in the villains.

And in the latest act of the historic Villanova-Temple rivalry Wednesday night in North Philly, a well-known Villanova hero and loathed Temple villain left his footprint yet again.

But this time, he was joined at the hip by an emerging jersey and shorts-wearing hero from the Main Line and a new North Broad Street villain who drew his first taste of Temple blood.

Star junior point guard Jalen Brunson sparkled with 31 points on 11 of 16 from the field, including 6 for 10 from downtown, and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman scorched the nets for 27 points of his own as that duo led No. 1 Villanova to a thorough 87-67 beatdown of Temple at the Liacouras Center (see observations).

The victory extended the record Big 5 win streak to 22 games for the Wildcats, now 11-0 on the season. Temple fell to 6-3.

After the game, all eyes, lights, cameras and recorders were on the dominant twosome, and rightfully so.

“I was just able to make my shots,” said Brunson, whose 31 points Wednesday were a career high. “I tried to make the right play at the right time. They were taking away certain plays and certain passes, so I was just trying to be aggressive.”

That ruthless aggression was on full display in the first half when Brunson came blazing out of the gate. He scored 10 straight Villanova points in a 1:57 span to ignite a 15-1 Wildcats run that pushed an eight-point lead all the way to a 20-point lead.

On that 10-0 personal run, Brunson showed his shifty elusiveness by dazzling a Temple defender and the crowd with a spinning layup and then showing his range with two treys. As the half went on, Brunson was scoring with every blink of an eye. He finished the half with 22 points.

With redshirt junior Phil Booth, who entered averaging 12.7 points per night, limited with a virus, Villanova head coach Jay Wright had a feeling Brunson would take command of this one.

“He was incredible,” Wright said. “It’s really no surprise to us. He can do that every night, but we like to keep balance. With Phil Booth being out … I knew [Brunson] was going to be more aggressive. They did a really good job taking away our perimeter guys, so it forced somebody to go create shots.

“He made the shots tonight and that was the difference.”

The Liacouras Center is always hostile territory for anyone wearing blue and white, but especially so for Brunson, who spurned the Owls to sign with the Wildcats three years ago out of high school even though his father, Rick, is a Temple legend who starred under John Chaney in the early 1990s.

Temple fans haven’t forgotten and peppered Brunson with every word and name in the book on Wednesday, just as they did two years ago when he made his first trip to North Philly as a Wildcat. That game two years ago was his true freshman arrival as he dropped 25 points in a spectacular performance. He’s a Temple menace as he’s dropped 69 points on 23 of 33 shooting, including 13 of 20 from downtown in three games against the Owls.

“It is what it is,” Brunson said of the not-so-flattering words from fans. “I try to keep the same mindset throughout every game. Being aggressive, trying to set the tone defensively, tell my teammates and the younger guys that we make sure to play through the full 40 minutes.

“It’s being aggressive and just trying to be a killer. Tonight was just one of those nights I got it going.”

On to his partner in crime Spellman, who lit up the scoreboard in a variety of ways in his first exposure to this heated rivalry. The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman torched the Owls for his 27 points on 11 of 14 from the field — 7 for 7 inside the arc and brilliant touch on 4 for 7 outside the arc. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps unlike Wright has ever had on the Main Line.

“It definitely helps to be around players that are as good as my teammates are every day,” Spellman said.  

“We know we need an inside presence, and we know he can do that,” Wright said of Spellman. “As we’re doing that with him, we’re working on footwork and we’re watching him. We chart our shooters and we said, ‘This kid is one of our best shooters. What are we doing?’

“We can’t disregard the fact he’s one of our best shooters. With Phil down tonight and losing (Colin) Gillespie, we said to him, ‘Yo, you gotta do this.’ I’m sure he’s been waiting for it. He’s never asked. But he showed he can do it tonight.”

The performances of both Brunson and Spellman are testaments to the rich depth Villanova has. Booth was limited and leading scorer Mikal Bridges had an off night with just seven points. He averaged 18.1 coming in.

Still, Villanova barely had to look back. Quinton Rose’s career-high 27 points guided Temple’s efforts, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Not even his three straight threes in the first half that cut Villanova’s lead to seven and his subsequent shout for his teammates to "Wake up!" did the trick.

“They’re a team that just goes on some killer runs and they did that, obviously in the first half, which hurt us greatly,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We got it back to seven in that first half and then they go on a 10-0 run that spaces them again. … You can’t make a mistake, and when you do, they take great advantage of it. Those runs are just devastating.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons and Bridges wasn’t a dominating player here. He can be dominating. Phil Booth can be dominating. Tonight it was Brunson and Spellman. They’re just a really good basketball team.”

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer who’s seen it all in this game. And he said those quotes with an exasperated tone to his voice. His guys gave Villanova their best shot on this evening and still fell the way they did.

That right there should tell you just how good and scary this Villanova team is.

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.”

Obi Enechionyia leads Temple past Clemson to win Charleston Classic

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Obi Enechionyia leads Temple past Clemson to win Charleston Classic

BOX SCORE

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Temple players hugged each other in a circle, jumped around and chanted in celebration of their latest early-season tournament title.

Owls coach Fran Dunphy's happiness was tempered by the knowledge his team has a long, long road ahead before seeing if their fast start will pay off in March.

Shizz Alston Jr. scored 14 points including four clinching foul shots as Temple defeated Clemson 67-60 to win the Charleston Classic on Sunday night.

"This will make Thanksgiving taste a little bit sweeter," Dunphy said. "But there's a long way to go."

Still, it was a historic start for Temple (3-0), which had never before won the first three games of a season away from home. Their Charleston victories included wins over a pair of Power Five opponents in Auburn of the Southeastern Conference and Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And it was their second straight early season tournament win after taking the NIT Season Tip-Off event a year ago.

"It's a great way to start the season," said Obi Enechionyia, who scored 12 points and was named the event's most outstanding player. "We've worked all offseason for this."

Temple used an 18-7 run that spanned both halves to gain control. Josh Brown scored 13 points and had two of his three 3-pointers in that stretch. And when he knocked his final long-range basket with 13:02 remaining the Owls were up 50-36 and on their way to the victory.

The Tigers (4-1) cut things to 60-56 on Shelton Mitchell's driving layup with 51 seconds to go. Clemson had the chance to make it even tighter when Marcquise Reed stole the ball with 50 seconds left, but Donte Grantham's quick 3 was off the mark.

Quinton Rose hit two foul shots for Temple and Clemson could not catch up.

The Owls got a measure of Charleston-flavored revenge on Clemson, which topped Temple 76-72 to win this title in 2008. The Tigers were playing in their third Charleston final. They lost to UMass in 2013.

Alani Moore II also scored 12 points for Temple, while Rose finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Mitchell led Clemson with 16 points. Reed had 14 points for the Tigers, 11 of them in the second half.

"We just got a little careless, a little excited and sped up," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

Big picture
Temple: If the Owls can play like this, expect them to make plenty of noise in the American Athletic Conference this fall. Temple defeated Auburn of the Southeastern Conference to make the finals, then outhustled and out-muscled Clemson to win the tournament title.

Clemson: The Tigers were off-kilter in the middle of the game, often failing to finish good looks near the basket. Clemson's 6-foot-9 forward Elijah Thomas struggled to make an impact down low with six points. The Tigers will need more, much more, from Thomas to compete.

Temple chant
The Owls had a deep, strong chant they used to enter the court in all three games and did it as they left. When Enechionyia was asked what they were saying, he smiled and declined to detail it. "We'd like to keep that between us," he said.

Is that ...
Movie funnyman Bill Murray, who has a home in Charleston, was at the TD Arena to watch the tournament finals. Murray routinely pops up at area events and had on a zip-up vest with a Clemson tiger paw on it.

Charleston recap
The game of the final day had to be Ohio's four-overtime, 96-94 victory over Indiana State in the seventh-place game. The Bobcats were down 18 points in the second half and eight in the second OT before Mike Laster's bucket in the final extra period gave them the lead for good. Old Dominion defeated Dayton 75-67 to take fifth, while Auburn outlasted Hofstra 89-78 for third.

Up next
Temple plays at La Salle on Sunday.

Clemson returns home to face Texas Southern on Friday night.