Temple Owls

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

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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.”

Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

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Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

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With five minutes and 22 seconds left in the first half and Temple trailing St. Joe’s, 26-24, De’Vondre Perry took a three-pointer that hit the back iron and missed long.

Out of nowhere, Quinton Rose streaked down the center of the free throw lane, leaped above everyone on the floor, corralled the offensive rebound and completed the two-handed slam to tie the game, prompting an eruption from the Liacouras Center crowd.

“That’s just how [Quinton] plays,” Shizz Alston Jr. said. “When guys start jawing at him he just turns it up a notch. I think some of their players were talking to him and he just got juiced up off of that.”

The play energized the Owls after a slow start, highlighting a 17-3 run to end the half and leading to an 81-78 Temple victory (see observations). Alston Jr. led all scorers with 20 points, including five three-pointers, and Rose added a 15 point, 11 rebound double-double for the squad.

At the start of the game, St. Joe’s came out hot, hitting on three of their first five three-point attempts and jumping out to a 17-8 lead early in the game. After a Fran Dunphy timeout with just less than 13 minutes left in the half, the Owls seemed to tighten up defensively.

“He just told us we had to pick it up,” Rose said. “It’s simple as that.

"I think we had a lack of communication and the biggest thing is we don’t finish our possessions with rebounds. We give up a lot of second-chance points. We just have to straighten that up and I think we’ll be good.”

Obi Enechionyia and Rose came up with big blocks and Temple started forcing turnovers. This helped the offense get going, in particular, Alston, whose 15 first-half points kept Temple in the ball game despite the hot shooting start by St. Joe's.

Perry, a true freshman, provided a spark off the bench for the Owls, contributing nine points in the first half, including two threes and a tough finish at the rim.

“He showed a lot of toughness,” Rose said. “I mean he’s young, but he showed a lot of toughness on the defensive end and rebounding. He made some big shots for us too.”

Perry attributed a lot of the open looks he got to his teammates.

“My teammates opened it up for me,” Perry said. “Either driving or kicking or just doing what they do best by penetrating and giving me the ball.”

Temple’s star big man, Enechionyia, struggled throughout the game, going 1 for 8 from the field and finishing with four points while being limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Center Ernest Aflakpui came up big in his absence, putting up 12 points on 5 for 6 from the field and adding six rebounds.

“If we can count on a dozen points from Ern every game, that would be spectacular,” Dunphy said. “It’s obviously not his forte, but he did a terrific job. I thought he was poised at the rim and didn’t rush himself.”

In the last five minutes, the Hawks rallied from 16 down and cut the lead to four, but five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown sealed Temple’s first Big 5 and Atlantic-10 win of the year.

“I thought Josh Brown saved us at the foul line,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought he played great again. He played great against Wisconsin and played great again. I’m very, very proud of him.”

The Owls, now 6-2 on the season, will host the No. 4-ranked Villanova Wildcats, who could jump to No. 1 in the country after Duke’s loss Saturday, in another Big 5 showdown this Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

“It’s a really big opportunity,” Rose said. “I hope they are No. 1 so we can knock them off.”

Temple-St. Joe's observations: Owls hold off late rally

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Temple-St. Joe's observations: Owls hold off late rally

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Temple on Saturday afternoon nabbed its first win against a Big 5 team and an Atlantic 10 team with an 81-78 victory over St. Joe’s at the Liacouras Center.

With five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown, the Owls held off a late rally by the Hawks. Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 20 points and four rebounds, while Quinton Rose added a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards.

Temple moves to 6-2 on the season with the victory.

• St. Joe’s was on fire early on, making three of its first five three-point attempts, en route to a 17-8 lead just over seven minutes into the game.

• After a Fran Dunphy timeout with 12:44 left in the first half, Temple turned up its effort on defense. Big blocks by Rose and Obi Enechionyia allowed Temple to take the lead, 18-17, with 9:30 left in the half. The Owls forced a total of eight turnovers in the first half.

• Alston, Jr. dominated the first half and really kept the Owls in the game during St. Joe’s early run. He went 5 for 8 from the field in the first half, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, for 15 points. The junior guard has developed tremendously since last season, coming into this contest averaging 16.9 points, which is up from 13.9 points per game last year in his sophomore campaign.

• Enechionyia struggled in the first half, going 1 for 6 from the field in 17 minutes of action. He missed multiple fadeaway jumpers on the baseline and didn’t make an impact in the post. He also picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half and had to go to the bench. The senior power forward finished the afternoon with just four points and six rebounds.

• Junior center Ernest Aflakpui filled in tremendously with Enechionyia on the bench. He scored 12 points while shooting 83 percent from the field, added six rebounds and disrupted shots around the rim.

• De’Vondre Perry also played a big role for Temple, putting up nine points, 6.9 points more than his season average, in 21 minutes of action, which is up from his season average of 12.3 minutes per game. The true freshman did it in a variety of ways as well, driving and finishing at the basket, drawing fouls and adding two three-pointers. Perry was the only freshman to play in the game.

• Rose displayed his incredible athleticism with multiple big plays in the first half. The sophomore guard slashed through the lane and made a contested layup to put Temple up 18-17, and then followed a Perry missed three-pointer with a put-back dunk that caused the crowd to erupt. He also missed a few layups during the game, showing he still can refine his touch around the basket, but finished the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

• The student section was involved throughout the game, bringing out big-head posters during opponents’ free throws, making noise after airballs and erupting after multiple big Rose dunks. In Temple’s second Big 5 game of the year, the Owls fans needed to out-do the St. Joe’s fans who traveled to North Philly, and they certainly did.

• The win marks Temple’s first Big 5 victory of the year, almost two weeks after its 87-83 road loss to La Salle. It was a physical matchup that seemed like it would get chippy. Rose got into a St. Joe’s player’s face after a layup in the first half. Enechionyia was elbowed in the face while going up for a rebound at the end of the first half. Temple was the more physical, scrappy team Saturday, but will need to be better this Wednesday against another Big 5 team, No. 4 Villanova.

The Hawks return to action next Sunday when they host Maine.