Temple Owls

Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

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Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

When fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown tore his Achilles tendon in late May 2016, it dealt a huge blow to the Owls’ 2017 NCAA Tournament chances.

Brown, who led the AAC with 36.2 minutes per game as Temple’s primary ball handler in 2015-16, underwent surgery on May 25 and came back for five games early in the year. But after a 78-57 loss at Villanova in mid-December, Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season.

The loss of the Owls’ backcourt leader put their young guards in a tough position, thrusting them into the spotlight without much experience. Although they acquitted themselves well, Temple had a disappointing season, finishing 16-16 and losing in the first round of the AAC Tournament to East Carolina.

The Owls did not advance to a postseason tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

However, with Brown returning for his fifth year after being granted a medical redshirt, the Owls' glaring weakness from last year is now their greatest strength.

“The [guard] rotation is going to be interesting for us,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ll probably play four guards a number of times because we have an abundance of guys that want to be out there and need to be out there on the court. We have a bunch of guys that are ready to go. Again, as our preseason stuff has been working, it’s been the competitiveness that has been terrific.”

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. will be a big part of that rotation. After Brown was lost for the season in 2016-17, Alston became Temple’s primary ball handler as a sophomore with little experience.

He had to average 36.4 minutes per game and responded well, leading the team with 13.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

“His mindset is totally different,” Brown said about Alston. “Going from his freshman year to his sophomore year, he was thrown into the fire and I thought he did a pretty good job, you know. Now, with all that experience he has on the court, I think he’s ready to take that next step and be a consistent scorer and a be a consistent guy on defense and be a consistent guy that we can all lean on.”

Sophomores Quinton Rose and Alani Moore had to make up for the absence of Brown, as well, averaging 24.8 and 25.8 minutes per game last year, respectively. Moore, a starter in his freshman year, likely will come off the bench this season, which is a true testament to the amount of depth the Owls have in the backcourt.

Moore’s offensive versatility, which allows him to bring the ball up in certain situations and play on the wing, as well, will be very important if the Owls want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“You can let other guys bring it up and have others guys do other things on the court, so it helps out a great deal,” Brown said. “It opens up everybody’s game. Like Alani Moore, he’s a point guard, but he’s also a great shooter, so he can spot up from time to time and things like that.”

“Alani and Q aren’t your average sophomores,” Alston added. “We played almost the same amount of minutes [last year] and I’m a junior, so they’re very veteran guys already.”

Players have also been raving about the talent and competitiveness that freshmen guards/wings Nate Pierre-Louis, J.P. Moorman and De’vondre Perry have shown throughout the offseason and preseason.

“It’s amazing, I’ve never seen freshmen this ready to play,” Alston said. “J.P. can bring the ball up, ‘Dre can bring the ball up, even Nate sometimes, so it’ll help us a lot.”

When you factor Trey Lowe, a redshirt sophomore guard who missed all of last season as he has been recovering from a February 2016 car accident and could return later this season, into the equation, the Owls have an incredibly deep and versatile backcourt.

The last time the Owls made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was in 2001 when they lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. According to Alston, immediately after the Owls were bounced from the AAC Tournament last year, they talked about their potential to make a run.

“We see teams like South Carolina go all the way, teams similar to ourselves that are not the big blood teams like Kentucky or Duke,” Alston said. “We think we can make it to the second round, third round or as far as we want.”

If they’re going to do it, their veteran backcourt will be the reason why.

Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

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Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

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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

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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.