NCAA

P.J. Walker looks to take game, Temple to next level

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P.J. Walker looks to take game, Temple to next level

Temple head coach Matt Rhule sees a winner in P.J. Walker. Not the quarterback who threw 15 interceptions and lost two fumbles last season.

And Rhule doesn't want his junior QB to think back to his freshman season, when Walker's numbers foreshadowed a promising future for the Owls.

"I don't want him to think too much about two years ago," Rhule said Aug. 17 at Temple's media day, "because he was a 2-6 quarterback and last year, he was a 6-6 quarterback.

"In the history of Temple, there are only a couple of guys that have been bowl-eligible quarterbacks. To me, it's just taking the next step and it's just one simple thing and one simple thing only: don't turn the football over as much."

Rhule does see the turnovers. It's hard not to. Walker's 15 INTs were tied for 10th most in the FBS last season. But judging a 20-year-old based off one full season starting isn’t something the third-year head coach is going to do, especially with what he’s seeing in summer camps.

“You see a totally different kid maturity-wise,” he said. “Not that he was an immature kid; he just understands more and more of the game. He is a winner. My point to him was keep winning. He got us to six wins. Now make the next jump.”

In 2014, Walker was a different QB than he was his freshman campaign. Part of it may be because Temple wanted to push the pace last season with a no-huddle offense, something the team plans on scrapping in 2015. Still, Walker saw his passing efficiency drop from 150.8 in nine appearances as a freshman to 107.8 as a sophomore.

Walker's completion percentage also dipped — 53.3 percent from 60.8. Numbers across the board were down except turnovers. In a no-huddle, high-paced offense, quarterbacks' numbers tend to increase, as does scoring. But the Owls also saw their points per game fall from 24.9 to 23.1.

Focus was an issue last season, Walker said. He would let small things distract him on the field. The biggest thing he's learned? He has to stay focused throughout the game.

"When you go back and watch film, you realize you missed this under route just because you were being lazy and wasn't focused hard enough," he said.

"There's nothing you can do about it. All you can do is correct it. You got to take every play serious. Don't worry about the last play, take every play seriously, next play mentality."

The Owls hired Glenn Thomas as their quarterbacks coach in February. Thomas comes to North Broad Street from the Atlanta Falcons, where he served as their QB coach from 2011-14.

Thomas brings an NFL résumé to the position and senior center Kyle Friend already sees a difference in Walker since Thomas' arrival.

"He's done an outstanding job," Friend, who has started 33 straight games for Temple, said. "Playing with him when he was younger and playing with him now, his football IQ has gotten so much better. He's out there running the show pretty much. Just to watch him grow in the past six months, ever since Coach Thomas has got here, he's done an outstanding job."

His freshman season, Walker took over at QB when Rhule benched Connor Reilly during Temple's 30-7 loss to Louisville, the team's fifth game. Walker started Temple's final seven games, finishing with 2,084 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and eight picks. He also added 332 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

The Elizabeth, New Jersey, native still had the running element last season — 324 yards and three scores. He says he’s lost 12 pounds over the summer, down to 203. He wants to be as fast as he can, but it's not something he wants to be known as.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I want to be a legit pocket passer," Walker said, "But you got to win games by sitting. You can't always run. I'm turning into more of a guy, I think, if I'm on top of the football … I think I'm pretty much now, if my first read ain't there, second read ain't there, get to the third read, get to the back and if the back ain't there, that's when you run."

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.