A new season for Temple is officially underway with a roster that is for the most part overturned. 76 percent of the Owls offense is gone from last year, leaving big shoes to fill for the the teams upperclassmen.
Coach Fran Dunphy has stressed in weeks leading up to the season that for this team to be successful, the three upperclassmen on the roster have to step up in Will Cummings, Dalton Pepper and Anthony Lee.
With the house packed and the lights shining bright at The Palestra for the Owls 2013-14 season opener, Cummings and Pepper turned in career high scoring performances with 18 and 19 points, respectively, to lead the Owls to an exhilarating 78-73 victory over Penn at the cathedral of college hoops.
Pepper showed flashes of what made him one of the nations top recruits coming out of Pennsbury High School in 2009, where he scored over 2,000 career points and Cummings looks to have really embraced the leadership role.
There is no time like the present for Pepper, whose college career has been an interesting ride from West Virginia to Temple, but the 6-5 guards time to shine is now.
“He did a really good job,” coach Dunphy said. “Nobody is rooting for Dalton Pepper more than our coaching staff and his teammates because he’s earned this right and we want him to be the best player he can be.”
Pepper came out of the gate in the first half guns a blazing and scored 10 points in 3:26 to get Temple in a groove early on.
“It felt good,” Pepper said when asked about his hot start. “It got the jitters out, coming out and making the first couple of shots. That’s what you want to do. Just come out, play as hard as you can and just do what you can,” he added.
Cummings on the other hand did not see may scoring opportunities a season ago as a sophomore amidst a senior heavy lineup, but his offensive production is expected to soar this year and the junior guard got off to a great start.
After playing just nine minutes in the first half and tallying six points due to foul trouble, Cummings went off in the second half playing every tick of the second frame, knocking down big shot after big shot to finish with 18 points.
At times last year, Cummings was timid and hesitant to shoot the rock, but tonight, showed a “get after it” mentality, driving the lane and finishing amongst the trees as well as knocking down outside shots.
“He’s a pretty smart guy,” Dunphy said when asked about Cummings. “We need him to be very aggressive. What we can’t do is have him get two fouls and be out of the game for as much as he was in the first half. We weathered that storm, but I don’t want to play that many minutes without him. He’s a very aggressive guy and he made a couple of fantastic plays tonight down the stretch.”
After the Quakers went on a 23-4 run to take a 73-71 advantage with 1:39 to get the crowd in a frenzy, Pepper and Cummings buckled down and combined for five straight points to pull put a clutch Temple victory.
Off a Lee steal and give with the game tied after a Lee layup, Pepper retrieved the pass and laid it in with a man blanketing his backside to regain a 75-73 Temple lead with 45 seconds left in the game.
20 seconds later, Cummings was fouled and sent to the line for a one and one. Cummings knocked down one of two, to put give Temple a three point cushion.
Penn coach Jerome Allen called a timeout to set up one last play, and after sophomore guard Tony Hicks came off a pick, he missed a three pointer that would have tied the game and Pepper corralled the biggest of his nine rebounds on the night and was fouled immediately.
With the Penn faithful upping the volume in the arena, Pepper took the free throw line and knocked down both shots to seal up the victory.
A year ago, Pepper lacked confidence, but after tonight’s performance, it looks as though he has regained that mental edge.
“What won the game was free throws in the end, so I wanted to come down at the end and knock down those two,” Pepper said. “I felt confidence in those,” he added.