Penn basketball

Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

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Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

BOX SCORE

Considering how much he loves Fran Dunphy, Steve Donahue may be a biased source.

But the Penn head coach made a bold prediction about Dunphy’s Temple squad after the Owls showed a ton of grit in a 60-51 win over the host Quakers Saturday afternoon at the Palestra (see observations).

“I think they’re an NCAA team,” Donahue said. “They just have to try to figure out consistency. When they play well, that’s as good a team as there is. They got better today and they figured out a way to win.”

Temple players agreed that Saturday’s victory — in which the Owls blew a 12-point lead, fell behind by three, and then scored the game’s final 12 points to prevail — could prove to be an important milestone in an up-and-down season.

“Big 5 games are always gonna be tough,” said senior Obi Enechionyia, who scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the second half. “But we wanted it more, I think. And it showed in the end.”

Enechionyia admitted he didn’t think the 2017-18 campaign would go as it has for the Owls (10-9), who began the season with huge wins over Top 25 teams Auburn and Clemson before starting to sputter and losing six of their last eight heading into Saturday’s contest.

But the senior forward compared this team to the 2015-16 squad, which also hovered around the .500 mark before ending the season strong and making the NCAA Tournament as a 21-win squad.

“I see nothing different from this team,” Enechionyia said.

“I think we all thought it would be better than this. But after struggling a little bit, we have to get back to how we played in the beginning. We have a lot of games to go and I think we can show we’re the same team we were in the beginning of the season.”

It will certainly be an uphill climb for the Owls, who hit the road to face No. 12 Cincinnati on Wednesday and still have two games on the schedule against No. 7 Wichita State. But if the Owls can go 8-3 or 9-2 the rest of the way, that could at least put them onto the bubble heading into the American Athletic Conference tournament.

If nothing else, they’ll be a seasoned team in February and March, as almost all of their recent games have come down to the final minute — Saturday’s win proving to be no exception.

“It’s just who we are,” Enechionyia said. “For some reason, we let teams back, which we shouldn’t do. But at the end of the day, a win is a win. I’m happy with how we played, even though we let them back in.”

Along with Enechionyia, fellow upperclassmen Shizz Alston and Josh Brown also made big plays down the stretch with Alston kickstarting the 12-0 run to end the game with a game-tying three pointer and Brown hitting a big three of his own in between that shot and a tough runner from freshman J.P. Moorman III.

Afterwards, Alston, a Philadelphia native, said he felt like he “needed to make a play.”

“It was amazing,” Alston said. “Every time there’s a game here, it feels like something special happens. Today was no different.”

Indeed, Saturday’s game was a nice place for Temple to show its character as the Palestra was filled even in the corners, with fans from both teams evenly represented.

The size of the crowd and the atmosphere was not lost on Dunphy, who spent 17 seasons in the historic building as Penn’s head coach and has lost only one game to the Quakers since leaving Penn for Temple in 2006.

“It’s different today [coming back] than it was 12 years ago — 12 years ago it was surreal, daunting, crazy,” Dunphy said. “It gets easier every year. It’s still a special place, special university. And while you can change the lighting or the floor, it’s always gonna be the Palestra. It’s still a spectacular place.”

Did it feel as loud as Big 5 games used to be?

“It was today,” Dunphy said. “It was loud as hell. We were in the huddle one time and someone made a halfcourt shot or something? Pretty cool. I’d like to see film of that.”

In addition to a Penn student making a halfcourt shot during one break in the action, the Penn Band played the Eagles fight song at on point with more than 7,000 fans then breaking into an E-A-G-L-E-S chant a day before the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Just like Dunphy noticed the student halfcourt shot, Donahue noticed that chant reverberating around the gym.

“This is a unique city,” said Donahue, who previously coached at Cornell and Boston College after Dunphy gave him his college start as a Penn assistant throughout the 1990s. “That doesn’t happen, this much interest. College basketball in this city is passionate, it’s huge, it’s a fun place to coach.

“You get an Eagles chant in the middle of the game, which gets you all fired up. They’re not doing that in Boston for the Patriots, trust me.”

Temple beats Penn for 11th straight time

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Temple beats Penn for 11th straight time

BOX SCORE

Fran Dunphy got the better of his old team once again.

On Saturday afternoon at a packed-to-the-rafters Palestra, Temple scored the game’s final 12 points to beat Penn, 60-51, in a taut Big 5 affair. 

Obi Enechionyia and Shizz Alston led the Owls (10-9, 2-2 Big 5) with 15 and 14 points, respectively, as Temple won its 11 straight game vs. the Quakers, where Temple head coach Dunphy coached for 17 years.

Sophomores AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley scored 12 points apiece for the Quakers (12-6, 0-3), who had won three straight and seven of their last eight coming into the game for the program’s best start in 15 years.

• Josh Brown made sure he wouldn’t leave Temple with a loss to Penn on his résumé, hitting a tough three with under a minute to go to put the Owls ahead 56-51. It was a big-time play from a big-time senior. 

• Enechionyia, the key to so much for Temple, was quiet in the first half but hit three seconds into the second half and then another one a couple of minutes later to put the Owls ahead 33-26 with 17 minutes left. It was a critical stretch after Temple fell behind 25-24 at halftime.

• After an athletic play from Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis put the Owls up 38-26, the Quakers began to claw their way back into the game, pulling within 46-41 on a Brodeur three-pointer and then within 46-45 on a Betley layup with 6:30 left.

• When Caleb Wood hit a contested three-pointer with just under five minutes left, the two teams were tied at 48-48 and the building, very nearly filled to capacity, got loud. It got even louder when Brodeur put them in front, 51-48, with a three-pointer of his own on the next possession, and then again when Temple’s Shizz Alston tied it up on another three. The Palestra was probably split pretty evenly between Temple fans and Penn fans. 

• Betley is clearly an excellent Ivy League player but also showed flashes of high-level athleticism with a great open-court block on Brown in transition early in the contest.

• Interestingly, Penn coach Steve Donahue made some big changes with his rotation, giving seldom-used reserves Jake Silpe and Jakub Mijakowski a lot of time off the bench. Mijakowski looked nervous and missed a bunch of shots but Silpe made a couple of nice plays in the first half, including an around-the-back dribble that nearly set up a Betley halftime buzzer beater. 

• Silpe also had a nice first-half assist to Betley, who drained a three just after missing from the same spot. That’s the kind of confidence Donahue likes in his standout sophomore, even on a day when Betley shot 5 for 14 from the field. As a team, the Quakers shot just 28.3 percent and 25.8 from behind the arc.

• As Big 5 contests often are, it was a slog of a game with both teams struggling to score for much of the day — except for one stretch in which Temple’s Alani Moore scored five points in just a few seconds after hitting a tough layup, getting fouled, missing the free throw, and then drilling a three after the Owls corralled an offensive rebound.

• The Quakers’ last win over Temple came in 2007 when Fran Dunphy, a former Penn coaching legend, made his first trip to the Palestra as a visiting coach and the Quakers won a thriller on a pair of late Mark Zoller free throws.

• Quakers head coach Steve Donahue — Dunphy’s assistant at Penn from 1991 to 2000, a stretch in which Penn won six Ivy League titles — has won only one game in 16 tries vs. his mentor. His only victory came in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when Donahue’s Cornell team upset Temple in the first round.

• Coming into Saturday’s game, ten of Temple’s 18 games had been decided by five or fewer points.

• For the third time this season, a Penn student hit a half-court shot during an in-game promotion.

• Some Penn students might need a history lesson. One of the rollouts coming from their section read: “Greatness doesn’t quit but Done-phy should.” Dunphy, of course, won 10 Ivy League championships and 310 games at Penn and was inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame last year. 

Villanova set to renew old-school rivalry with UConn

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Villanova set to renew old-school rivalry with UConn

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak. Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

No. 1 Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East) at Connecticut (10-8, 3-3 AAC), Saturday, 12:00 p.m.
SK: 
Villanova and UConn renew an old-school Big East rivalry on Saturday afternoon, the first meeting of a three-game series that extends to the 2019-2020 season. The two teams have not met since the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament when the Huskies upset the Wildcats en route to a national championship.

While top-ranked Villanova has flourished in the revamped Big East, UConn's basketball program has become somewhat of an afterthought the past three years in the AAC under Kevin Ollie. The Huskies finished with a 16-17 record a year ago and are a middling 10-8 this season. UConn enters Saturday's matchup fresh off a 24-point loss at Memphis on Tuesday.

Villanova, meanwhile, is coming off arguably its most impressive performance of the season an 88-56 drubbing of Georgetown on Wednesday. The Wildcats dominated the Hoyas in their own building from start to finish, leading by as many as 44 points in the second half. Jalen Brunson finished with 18 points to lead six different Villanova players in double figures. They shot a collective 60 percent from the field and 51 percent from three-point range. 

Sophomore sixth man Donte DiVincenzo continued his torrid pace with 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. DiVincenzo's performance came on the heels of his career-high 25-point outburst at St. John's last weekend, a game in which he connected on six three-point field goals. The fact that DiVincenzo isn't in the starting lineup speaks to the strength of the Villanova program. It's not an exaggeration to say that DiVincenzo would start for 98 percent of the teams in the country.

Villanova's improvement defensively is a welcomed sight for Jay Wright. After allowing an average of 92 points in their first three conference games, the Wildcats have clamped down considerably on the defensive end — surrendering an average of just 64 points in their last three games. Look for that defensive resurgence to continue on Saturday against UConn, a team that has struggled to score as of late.

Villanova 79, UConn 65

Temple (9-9, 2-5 AAC) at Pennsylvania (12-5, 3-0 Ivy), Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia
AF:
 This is always one of my favorite games to write about because of the connections between the two schools. Steven Donahue coached at Penn under Fran Dunphy, who enjoyed a lot of success as the Quakers head coach.

Before I get to the success that Penn has enjoyed this season, I have to discuss the Owls' string of recent heartbreak.

They’ve only won two of their last six games. But here’s the rub; if you throw out the loss to UCF, which I’m sure Coach Dunphy would appreciate, Temple has had those remaining five games decided by a combined 11 points. One basket, that could have been the deciding factor in turning one or more of those losses into wins.

So up next, a tough test at the Palestra, Dunphy’s old stomping grounds. Penn is off to its best start to a season since, you guessed it, Fran Dunphy was the coach. Just like back in the 2002-2003 season, the Quakers are also 12-5 at this point. That year, Penn went undefeated in Ivy play. So far this season, Penn is undefeated in Ivy play.

Yes, they have a long way to go in order to stay that way, but the Quakers are looking like the team to beat right now in the Ivy League. A.J. Brodeur is coming off his best game of the season, a 30-point effort with six three-pointers in the win over Columbia. Penn has two Big Five matchups before continuing league play in February, Temple then St. Joseph’s.

This weekend I think Penn keeps the good times rolling and the former assistant gets the best of his mentor.

Penn 72, Temple 70

Fordham (6-12, 1-5 A-10) at St. Joseph's (8-9, 3-3 A-10), Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
SK:
St. Joseph's rebounded from a pair of agonizing losses to George Mason and UMass to defeat Dayton, 81-65, on Wednesday. The Hawks are currently 3-3 in A-10 play but could easily be 5-1 if those heartbreaking losses turned out differently, which they easily could have.

The senior duo of James Demery and Shavar Newkirk combined for 36 points in the win over Dayton, while freshman forward Taylor Funk added 18 points and six rebounds. Then there's sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva, who recorded a bizarre but beneficial stat line of 0 points and 15 rebounds.

St. Joseph's should be able to build on the momentum of Wednesday's win against Fordham on Saturday. The Rams have lost four straight games and six of their last seven, generally not showing much fight in the process. Expect the Hawks to set the tone early and cruise to a second straight victory.

St. Joe's 74, Fordham 59

La Salle (8-11, 2-4 A-10) at Richmond (5-13, 3-3 A-10), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
SK:
Before I get to how this matchup of struggling A-10 teams will play out, a salute to Dr. John Giannini.

The La Salle head coach recorded his 500th career win with the Explorers' 75-67 victory over Fordham on Wednesday. Giannini has endured his share of ups and downs during his 14-year tenure at La Salle. But the bottom line remains; he's done an admirable job in less than ideal circumstances. Any realistic La Salle fan will admit that recruiting is a challenge, something Giannini has dealt with by pursuing a number of transfers in recent years. In most cases, these transfers are Philadelphia kids who are looking for more playing time — guys like B.J. Johnson, Tyrone Garland and Ramon Galloway. It's a formula that helped Giannini take La Salle to the Sweet 16 in 2013 with Galloway and Garland playing key roles.

On occasion, you'll hear or see La Salle fans on social media calling for a coaching change. I don't understand that logic. I continue to believe Giannini is a good fit at La Salle and he deserves the opportunity to get the program back to where it was five years ago.

As for this Saturday's visit to Richmond, it will be a challenge for the Explorers. The Spiders are down this season but have found their footing over the last week with wins over George Washington and VCU. I expect Richmond to make it three straight wins at La Salle's expense this weekend.

Richmond 70, La Salle 65

Drexel (7-13, 1-6 CAA) at James Madison (5-13, 1-6 A-10), Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
AF:
 After picking up a marquee win over the College of Charleston two weeks ago — which was also their first conference win — the Dragons have hit a serious slump and dropped four straight games.

Zach Spiker’s squad is certainly struggling with scoring, but perhaps more importantly, is getting beat on the glass, sometimes almost two to one by their opponents. And any coach will tell you second-chance points are a real killer, not only to the momentum of the game but also for team morale.

In Drexel’s most recent loss, falling 90-68 at Towson, the rebounding differential was 46-25 in the Tigers' favor. It could be a problem for the Dragons this weekend against James Madison.

The Dukes are coming off a marquee win of their own, when they beat Elon in overtime Thursday night. They erased a 10-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to take down the Phoenix, which also was their first CAA win.

A player of note in this one, JMU’s Stuckey Mosley is averaging 19.5 points and one of four Dukes who average double figures. Neither team is going to contend for the CAA this year, but both have shown flashes. The road has not been kind to the Dragons.

I hesitate to pick against them because they win when I predict a loss, and lose when I predict a win. So I’ll go a little reverse psychology and say that they will win ... and I really mean lose.

JMU 78, Drexel 75

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
15-8
Amy Fadool: 12-13