NCAA

Jahad Thomas looks to establish run game early vs. Notre Dame

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Jahad Thomas looks to establish run game early vs. Notre Dame

Jahad Thomas came to Temple as an athlete, playing defensive back his freshman season.

Last summer, Owls head coach Matt Rhule decided to convert Thomas to running back and this season, the move has paid major dividends.

Thomas leads the American Athletic Conference with 822 yards and 12 touchdowns through seven games. He's averaging 117.4 yards and 5.0 yards per carry.

Last Thursday against East Carolina, Thomas had his worst game of the season yet still found the end zone twice. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry for 66 yards on 20 carries against ECU.

"We have had a lot of success running the ball early in the season," the junior RB said Tuesday. "Some teams want to stop the run, try to make us one-dimensional.

"We just do what we gotta do. The offensive line, they've been playing great so far. As long as they do what they do, protect P.J. (Walker), get the running game going, we'll be great."

On Saturday night, Thomas and the No. 21 7-0 Owls take on No. 9 6-1 Notre Dame at a sold-out Lincoln Financial Field. TU's offense has struggled to get going in recent weeks.

Two games ago, a 30-16 win over Central Florida at the Linc, TU led, 14-13, at halftime and trailed, 16-14, heading into the fourth quarter before exploding for 16 in the final 15.

Even in their 49-10 win over Tulane on homecoming Oct. 10, the Owls had only an 11-point lead at halftime before rupturing for 28 points in the second half.

Against the Irish, it's important for the Owls' offense to find its groove in the game's first 30 minutes.

"We have to establish the run game early," Thomas said. "Just to get the team going and that may open it up in the passing game.

"Or vice versa. Get the passing game going and then it allows us to run the ball more effectively."

While Temple's offense has dealt with slow starts, the Owls are averaging 32 points. The 24 points against ECU are TU's lowest point total this season.

The Owls benefit from a run game led by Thomas. Rhule placed an emphasis on the run game entering the season, and TU is averaging 148.9 yards per game on the ground.

Rhule hasn't asked Walker to do much this season, as TU averages 197 yards in the air. Against ECU, the QB missed some throws but connected on a big one late to send TU to a victory.

"I would love the day that we look like Baylor and we go out there early on, scoring 30 points in the first quarter," Rhule said of his offense's slow starts. "But that's not us."

The Phil Snow-coached defense is TU's backbone. The Owls allow 14.6 points per game — eighth in the nation. TU has generated 23 sacks — tied for eighth in the country — 12 interceptions and three forced fumbles. Temple has allowed 29 points in the second half, nine points in the fourth quarter and has four second-half shutouts.

According to Rhule, any time a team decides to play great defense, it commits to close games.

"It's really hard to be a high, high scoring team and play great defense," he said. "We're averaging over 30 points a game. It's not like we're winning, 17-14. It just takes us a little while." 

Notre Dame offers a difficult task for Thomas and the TU offense. The Irish defense features several NFL prospects, including defensive tackle Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith.

When TU played the Irish at South Bend in 2013, Day was a sophomore but the 6-foot-2, 291-pound DT impressed the then first-year head coach.

"I go back to that game a couple years ago," Rhule said. "I remember coming out of that game and all I talked about was how good Sheldon Day was. So active.

"He's constantly moving, he's got power. He's a great pass rusher. You have to have a plan for him. You can't just go out there and say I'm going to play him one-on-one.

"You have to have a plan for him. He's a really, really dynamic rusher and run defender."

Rhule said TU's offensive line has to work as a group to slow down Day. Since Day is three-technique, he doesn't expect center Kyle Friend to see him much.

The Irish have a high-powered offense under Brian Kelly, but their defense is a challenge TU hasn't faced since the PSU game. ND allows 22.6 points per game, while averaging 194.4 passing yards and 175.9 rushing yards.

Temple is ranked for the first time in 36 years, undefeated and a rising program, but the general feel is Notre Dame wins Saturday night — ND is a double-digit favorite.

And that's a position the Owls are embracing.

"We love being the underdog, having that chip on our shoulder," Thomas said. "It just makes us play even harder. What we've done, nobody is going to be satisfied with anything we've done.

"We could go 12-0 and it's still going to be, 'They possibly could have done this and that.' As long as we keep that in our mind, keep that chip on our shoulder, we'll do fine."

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

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Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

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Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.