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January 30, 2013On a night when Temple legend Hal Lear had his No. 6 retired to the Liacouras Center rafters, the current edition of the Owls snapped out of a slump and made just enough plays down the stretch to pull off a win for their esteemed guest and a few other Owls greats.
And most importantly, they got a win they absolutely needed for themselves.
Yes, it's late January, but Wednesday night's Atlantic 10 game against Richmond was of the must-win variety for Temple, and senior forward Scootie Randall snapped out of a shooting slump by scoring a team-high 21 points to lead the Owls to a 71-64 win over the Spiders at the Liacouras Center.
Temple, which improved to 14-6 overall and 3-3 in the A-10, led by as many as 13 points late in the first half and by as many as 10 early in the second half before consecutive three-pointers by backup guard Kendall Anthony gave Richmond a 47-45 lead with 13 minutes, 43 seconds left to play. After Randall later tied the game at 61-61 on a layup with 7:05 to go, the two teams went scoreless for exactly four minutes until Owls guard Khalif Wyatt hit a three-pointer to put Temple ahead for good at 64-61.
Randall delivered a layup almost a minute later, Wyatt followed with a pair of free throws that put Temple ahead by seven with 1:17 left, and Richmond (13-9, 3-4) never got closer than six the rest of the way. Wyatt shot just 6 of 14 and was whistled for a technical foul that came during an 8-0 Richmond run early in the second half that got the Spiders back in the game, but the senior recovered to collect 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Temple, which was coming off a 12-point loss at No. 9 Butler last Saturday and a seven-point win over a three-win Penn team three days before, came into Wednesday night's game with an RPI of 56 according to Jerry Palm's CBSSports RPI ratings. While there's still plenty of basketball and the A-10 Tournament left to be played, losing this game likely would have pushed the Owls closer to the other side of the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble.
So, yes, Randall said, this was a must-win game.
"A lot of games we let slip away," Randall said. "I think tonight was a big one for us. Coming into the game, it was like, we've got to get this and start off from here. We can't look at the past and it's all about how we finish, and we're trying to finish as best as we can."
Temple jumped out to a 38-30 halftime lead behind Randall's 14 points on a perfect 3 of 3 shooting from three-point range. Randall played 18 minutes in the first half and shot 5 of 7 to go with two rebounds, an assist and a block and did not turn the ball over. He went on to play 38 minutes and shoot 8 of 13 from the floor.
After starting the season with a career-high 31 points in a win at Kent State, Randall's offense has been uneven. In the 18 games since then prior to Wednesday night, Randall was held to single-digit scoring eight times and shot just 34 percent. He scored a combined seven points in consecutive games against Saint Louis and George Washington earlier this month, and his 21 points Wednesday night were the most he's scored since the 21 he got in a win at Villanova back on Dec. 5.
But for most of the first half and key parts of the second half against Richmond, Randall carried Temple.
"I've been playing basketball a long time," Randall said, "so I know that even the great people struggle. So I'm thankful I've got great teammates to support me, and I think that I just made shots today and I think it's going to continue to just get better."
If that happens, Temple will become a more stable team, at least on the offensive end.
"That would be nice if (Randall's shooting slump) is over and done with and we're moving on," said Dunphy, who mentioned that Randall will be graduating tomorrow after earning a degree in sociology, joining teammates Jake O'Brien and TJ DiLeo among a group of Temple players that has already earned an undergraduate degree.
Speaking of DiLeo, he went through pregame warm-ups to test his sprained ankle but did not play. The hope is that the player Dunphy calls his best perimeter defender will return for Saturday's game at Saint Joseph's, but DiLeo is still on a day-to-day basis in terms of his recovery.
"If he was ready to go, I'm sure he would have been beating me over the head," Dunphy said of DiLeo, who sustained his injury just three minutes into the Butler game. "I trust everything that kid tells me, so if he's ready to go and the doctors and the trainers say he's OK, then we'll go with it, but I didn't get that word today."
Without DiLeo, Temple still played better defensively, holding a team to less than 40 percent shooting for the first time in two weeks. Richmond has been without junior forward Derrick Williams and his 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the last eight games due to a sprained ankle, but the Spiders still have dangerous weapons in leading scorer Darien Brothers and Anthony, who scored 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
Brothers, the nation's sixth-best three-point shooter, did knock down 5 of 10 from beyond the arc Wednesday but shot 7 of 16 overall. The rest of the team shot a combined 14 of 37 and Richmond as a whole shot 39.6 percent.
When the Spiders got out in transition, they were at their best, getting 19 points off 15 Temple turnovers. But when they were forced into halfcourt sets, they were harmless and never got much going and didn't really execute coach Chris Mooney's Princeton offense that thrives off backdoor cuts.
"I thought that our assignments were pretty well kept to today," Dunphy said. "I thought we did a good job on the switches. I thought we didn't get beat on any of the backdoor cuts. We traced the ball pretty well to not allow some easy passes for baskets, so I was pleased with that. Brothers made some really tough shots, and we also left him a couple times as well. Same with Anthony, who's just a scoring machine in all honesty.
"But overall, I was much more pleased."
Now comes Saturday's equally important A-10 game at St. Joe's. The Owls play the Hawks just once this season, and this one will tip-off at Hagan Arena, where St. Joe's beat Temple by 10 last February.
"It's a city game with all that on the line, and I think we've just got to come prepared and just have to look at things that they did to beat us that we can take away from last year," said Randall, who did not play last year while recovering from torn meniscus cartilage. "We'll just watch film and be ready to play, because they're going to be ready to play."
But Randall, Wyatt and most of Temple's players already know much of what guys like Carl Jones, Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts can do for St. Joe's after playing against them in seasons past and over the summer as well in various leagues and workouts.
"A lot of times, it's the same thing," Randall said. "We watch their games on TV, as well as they probably do ours. In the film room, we kind of have a sense of what they're going to do, and we've just got to go out there and prevent them from going to their strengths."
And not all of that will be centered around putting points on the board.
"I think it's time for us to step up defensively," Randall said, "and the offense is going to take care of itself."
Listen to postgame interviews with Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall, Fran Dunphy and Chris Mooney here.
Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall
OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.