Temple Owls

Experienced Temple aims for return to NCAA Tournament

Experienced Temple aims for return to NCAA Tournament

After last year’s disappointing season in which Temple’s young roster failed to win a game in the AAC Tournament and ultimately was sent home early without a postseason berth of any kind, the Owls, led by their two senior captains Josh Brown and Obi Enechionyia, are aiming for an NCAA Tournament run this go around.

Now in his fifth year, Brown returns as the team’s lead guard after an Achilles tendon injury limited him to just five games last season, while Enechionyia comes back as the Owls' top frontcourt option after withdrawing from the NBA draft last May.

Enechionyia, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, has been a matchup problem for teams in recent years because of his shooting ability as a big man and length on both ends of the floor. But head coach Fran Dunphy praised Enechionyia's evolution into a complete player this offseason.

“I think Obi’s getting better each and every day,” Dunphy said. “Obviously, they are gonna guard him to shoot the jump shot and now he has to attack the closeout, as it were. So, if the guy is hanging on his right side, he has to shot fake and pull through and get the gap. Maybe he’s pulling up for a quick jumper or maybe he’s kicking it to the other side of the floor, a little drive and kick stuff. He can always defend and rebound better, too, and I think that’s the next charge for him — to make a statement, not only shooting the basketball but at the other end of the floor.”

While Brown and Enechionyia are the unquestioned leaders, this Temple team doesn’t lack experience. Junior guard Shizz Alston, Jr. and sophomore guards Alani Moore and Quinton Rose were thrown into the fire in Brown’s absence, playing 36.4, 25.8 and 24.8 minutes per game, respectively, last season.

“It was really important [getting minutes last year],” Rose said. “I’m coming into this season really comfortable because I played in the beginning, middle and end of games last year. I think it’s really important that I’m going into this year with a little experience, more experience than most [sophomores].”

Rose was also able to gain valuable experience in his freshman season by talking to and learning from Brown, who was his roommate during road trips.

“He would just tell me stuff, get my head on straight and get me prepared for games, so that was good,” Rose said. “But this year, he’s doing a great job leading the guys, making sure we go hard, making sure we’re on time with things, early in fact, and just handling our business. He’s a really good leader.”

With depth at guard, Dunphy can allow the four freshmen on the team, whom he described as “great," to develop, though he will likely give them game opportunities. This year, the Owls will often play four guards on the floor at the same time to capitalize on their passing ability and athleticism, which will cause mismatches across the board.

“I think we have a lot of guards that can get out and run and play more than one position,” Rose said. “For myself, I think in the four-guard rotation, I’m the four-man guard and I think that’s a mismatch more times than not.”

“We just have a lot of selfless guys,” Brown said. “They love to share the ball and it makes their job easier, it makes everybody’s job easier when the ball is moving side to side and the defense can’t really react to the moves. We understand that and it’s helping us along the way. Now we just need to learn how to sometimes be selfish. Once we learn that we’re going to be a pretty solid offensive team.”

The experience will come in handy this season in a talented American Athletic Conference that just added No. 7 Wichita State and also features No. 12 Cincinnati. Temple hosts Wichita State on Feb. 1 and travels to play the Shockers on Feb. 15, while it plays the Bearcats at home on Jan. 4 and journeys to Cincy on Feb. 15.

The Owls also play a string of marquee matchups at home early in the season, facing Wisconsin on Dec. 6, St. Joe’s on Dec. 9 and No. 6 Villanova on Dec. 13.

The one thing Dunphy and multiple players emphasized needing to improve upon before the regular season begins this coming Thursday vs. Old Dominion in the Charleston Classic was team defense. Dunphy focused on the team’s communication, weak-side help and denial of second-chance opportunities, while Brown pinpointed help defense and consistency as areas of improvement.

“We want to win as many games as possible," Brown said. "From there, hopefully, we get into the tournament and make a special run. We know what it takes, it’s an everyday process so we’re trying to approach every day like that.”

Temple at a glance

Head coach: Fran Dunphy (12th season at Temple, 29th overall)

Last year: 16-16, 7-11 in AAC (finished eighth in AAC regular season standings, lost 80-69 in first round of AAC Tournament to East Carolina)

Top returners: G Josh Brown, F Obi Enechionyia, G Shizz Alston Jr.

Key losses: G/F Daniel Dingle, F Mark Williams

Impact newcomers: G Nate Pierre-Louis, F De’Vondre Perry, F J.P. Moorman II, F Justyn Hamilton

Games to watch: Dec. 6 vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 9 vs Saint Joseph’s, Dec. 13 vs. No. 6 Villanova, Jan. 24 at No. 12 Cincinnati, Feb. 15 at No. 7 Wichita State

Best-case scenario: Brown returns to pre-injury form and spearheads Temple’s deep backcourt, while Enechionyia provides inside scoring and defensive threats to make the Owls competitive again in the talented AAC. The two senior captains lead Temple back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

Worst-case scenario: Brown’s injury lingers and Temple’s young guards can’t handle the tough AAC competition, while Enechionyia struggles as a top scoring option and the Owls fail to make the Big Dance for the second straight year.

Temple holds off Drexel in 1st matchup in 10 years

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Temple holds off Drexel in 1st matchup in 10 years

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Shizz Alston Jr. scored 12 points and Temple got a big contribution from its bench in beating Drexel 63-60 on Saturday.

Temple reserves Damion Moore, De'Vondre Perry and Alani Moore II combined to score 19 of the Owls' 38 points in the first half. Temple (7-3) led 38-29 at halftime after Quinton Rose's 3-pointer.

The Dragons (5-6) opened the second half on a 7-0 run and Austin Williams' dunk tied it at 53 with 5:32 left. Temple regained the lead on a Rose jumper, but Sammy Mojica sank a 3-pointer and Drexel led 56-55 with 2:42 to go. It was the Dragons' first lead since 6-4.

Alston rebounded his own missed shot and scored and Rose fed Aflakpui for a layup and a 61-57 Temple lead. Kurk Lee cut the deficit to a point with a long 3-pointer with 15 seconds left, but Enechionyia hit a pair of free throws and Lee missed a 3 at the buzzer.

Demir led Drexel with 16 points, Williams scored 15 with 10 rebounds and Mojica scored 11.

Enechionyia was one of five Owls who finished with eight points and he added nine rebounds and five blocked shots.

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

BOX SCORE

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.”