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December 17, 2012

Temple pulls away late against Alcorn State

The scoreboard showed that Temple beat Alcorn State, 63-46, Monday night in a Gotham Classic game at the Liacouras Center.

The Owls' record shows they are an 8-1 basketball team.

But in coach Fran Dunphy's estimation, his team has only really played one solid half of basketball this season.

"We haven't found a great rhythm," Dunphy said. "Other than the second half of Villanova, we just haven't had a great rhythm to our game."

A two-win Alcorn State team whose wins have come against Oakwood and Samford was within a bucket of Temple at the half, down 28-26, and the Owls didn't push their lead back out to double digits for good until senior guard Khalif Wyatt's two free throws gave Temple a 52-42 lead with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left to play.

Wyatt, by the way, scored a game-high 20 points and in the process became the 49th player in the program's history to surpass the 1,000-point mark for his career. But at the risk of throwing out a wet blanket, Wyatt and fellow senior Scootie Randall combined for nine turnovers, and the Owls committed 15 as a team against an Alcorn State team that's simply not that good.

Why the lack of rhythm? Why hasn't Temple played better to this point?

"I don't know," Dunphy admitted. "If I knew, I'd fix it and say, OK, we're going to run the … No. 6 play, and that'll help us get out of this."

On a night when sophomore starting forward Anthony Lee did not play because he was sick, 6-foot-10 freshman center Devontae Watson played six minutes and made the most of them, contributing four points on 2 of 4 shooting to go with four rebounds and three blocked shots, including two on one possession. He missed the rim completely on one shot and gave up a couple of dribble drives and still has a lot to work on, but his play was also a breath of fresh air for a team that just has not defended well, especially in the paint.

"He did some really good things. He really did some terrific things," Dunphy said of Watson, one of two players in American scholastic history to have recorded at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 blocked shots in his high school career. "I think he's going to be a terrific basketball player. He's going to be hard to score against.

"Even his play at the end of the game. I mentioned that to our guys. He drives it on the baseline, kicks it out to Jimmy McDonnell, Jimmy goes to Daniel Dingle and (Dingle) makes a three. Those guys deserve more of an opportunity than we're giving to them, and if we would be sharper and crisper on offense, we'd have a better opportunity to give some of these guys some much needed playing time, because they deserve it. They're hanging in the best that they can, but we need to give them more time."

Instead, Temple's starters played some sluggish and uninspired basketball. After leading by as many as 10 points at the 9:43 mark of the first half on a layup by Watson, the Owls allowed Alcorn State to get back within two on three separate occasions right before halftime.

Randall, who committed all four of his turnovers in the first half, has often identified himself as the leader of this team. And when he was asked about the team's slow starts Monday night, he didn't shy away from taking some responsibility for it.

"I think it's a big part of our leadership," said Randall, who missed all of last season as a medical redshirt while recovering from surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage. "I think us leaders have to set the tone earlier before the game starts. We've got to make sure everybody's focused and everybody's ready to go."

Randall and Wyatt know as well as anyone else that slow starts can be overcome against teams like Alcorn State and Towson. Against teams like No. 3 Syracuse, who the Owls will play Saturday at Madison Square Garden in the marquee game of the Gotham Classic, slow starts will simply lead to a loss. Against then-No. 2 Duke, a slow start led to a 23-point loss.

Temple allowed Alcorn State guard Anthony Nieves to get a team-high 16 points, five about his average, on 4 of 7 shooting from three-point range, but the Owls got by because the Braves shot 34 percent (17 of 50) overall. Jake O'Brien, Temple's 6-10 forward, came up with 10 points, four rebounds, three blocks and three steals in Lee's absence, but he's still more of a 'stretch four' than a power forward, and both teams swiped 35 rebounds.

In non-game-related stuff, Dunphy was asked about all the recent conference realignment news, including the decision of the Big East's seven Catholic programs to split off from the rest of the conference and essentially decimate the league's basketball prowess and tradition.

"I think we're in a state of flux at this point," Dunphy said. "No one really knows what exactly is going to happen. I feel very good about where Temple is positioned, no matter what happens. I think we have a wonderful university in a great city and a basketball program that has had great history and tradition to it, so I feel very good about where Temple is. But I couldn't venture a guess as to how everything is going to all come together, nor when it's all going to come together."

When Dunphy was asked if he was disappointed to hear that those schools plan to leave, there wasn't much Dunphy could say.

"Again, this is not new stuff. It's been happening over the last six months. Teams have been jockeying for position," Dunphy said. "As a basketball coach, I don't have any control over that. What I have control over, and I obviously didn't do a great job of it tonight, is our offense and how crisp we are. There's not much you can do.

"At this point, the only thing we can control is where we are this year and what we are doing, and I have great faith and trust in our administration, and I think something positive will happen for Temple University because of how good a place this is."

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.


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