By CHASE SENIOR
The consensus surrounding Temple heading into The Charleston Classic was that the team could not finish ball games. An opening-round loss to Clemson in which the Owls saw another halftime lead diminish did not lower the panic meter.
The fans were growing tired of the second-half struggles and the players as well as the coaches knew it had to be corrected, so it was time to put an end to the late game hiccups.
After dropping that opening round game to Clemson, the Owls were able to get over the hump during the back end of the tournament, thanks to a gutsy triple from junior point guard Will Cummings with 7 seconds remaining, lifting Temple to an 83-81 win. The next day, the Owls completed an all-around performance against a solid UAB team, behind senior guard Dalton Pepper’s 24 points.
“We kind of just sucked it up and said, ‘We gotta get two wins before we leave here,’” Cummings told Philahoops. “We just kind of focused in and made sure we closed out the second half because that’s kind of what happened versus Clemson. We got the lead in the second half and kind of just let it go again. We started focusing on, we got to play for 40 minutes and no matter if we get a lead in the second half, we just gotta close the game out,” he added.
It is said to be coach Fran Dunphy’s toughest year since arriving at Temple in 2006 and arguably one of the most difficult seasons in his coaching career, but with such a young team, Dunphy’s team showed flashes of what they can eventually become.
“Our focus was just to end the games strong,” Dunphy said when asked about what went right at The Charleston Classic. “We were putting ourselves in positions to win the game, but we just let up in the last ten minutes or so. The focus after the Clemson game was just to not let up when we have a lead and just keep playing hard and together at the end of the game,” he added.
After sporting a 34-31 lead over Clemson, Temple was steamrolled in the second half, allowing 41 points in the final 20 minutes, but against Georgia and UAB, the Owls scored 83 and 87 points respectively, while shooting a combined 62-122 from the field as a team.
“I thought our offense was pretty good throughout against Georgia,” Dunphy said. “We did have a few breakdowns offensively, but we got bailed out by Will Cummings’ final shot, which was a great shot for us. I think that helped us immeasurably against UAB because it was a pretty tight game. Then down the stretch, Dalton Pepper was terrific. I thought Anthony Lee played what might have been his best game since Syracuse to be honest with you.
“We figured out a way against UAB and you could see how good UAB is because they knocked off [North Carolina] on Sunday (December 1st), so we’re going to count that as a real good win for us. Just to go to these tournaments and go 2-1 is a pretty good accomplishment. Hopefully we can maintain that level of play that we started to build for ourselves,” he later added.
In the last two games at The College of Charleston, the Owls were as strong in all phases of the game as they had been all season, which was a relief to the players.
“We finally put everything aside and said ‘we gotta win.’ That was kind of the big deal. We said we got to play defense, get stops and get in transition and that’s where we thrive really good is in transition,” Cummings said.
Now, Temple enters a critical week after a nine-day layoff, with home games against city rival Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night and vs. Texas at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at noon.
It will be interesting to see how a young Temple team responds to not playing for over a week after getting in a two game groove.
“We had 3 games in six days, then we had a week off and then we had three games in four days and then we had nine days off, so there’s an interruption of sorts,” Dunphy told Philahoops. “There’s not much you can do about it. Scheduling is not one of those things you say ‘okay we’re gonna play every Wednesday and Saturday and the opponents gonna work with us too.’ It’s just not how it works. We’re a little bit fractured that way and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we have a huge week this week with St. Joe’s [Wednesday] and Texas on Saturday and we’re gonna have to get it together.”
You can reach Chase Senior on Twitter @Chase_Senior, via email at [email protected] or leave a comment below