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January 12, 2013

Wyatt, Lee lead Temple past Saint Louis

After two consecutive losses, Temple coach Fran Dunphy felt he needed to shake things up prior to the Owls' Saturday night game against Atlantic 10 opponent Saint Louis at the Liacouras Center.

So the veteran coach told a veteran, fifth-year senior Scootie Randall that he would be benched in favor of freshman guard Quenton DeCosey - and Dunphy had Randall give DeCosey the news.

Statistically, the move didn't have much of an impact. DeCosey played 10 first-half minutes, missed both shots he took and didn't play in the second half. Randall, who continued to struggle shooting the ball, missed six of his seven attempts, scored just three points and played 32 minutes.

But at the end of the day, the message was received and Temple held a Saint Louis team that had won nine in a row to 34.5 percent shooting overall, including 30 percent in the second half, to grind out a much-needed 64-54 win, one that bumped the Owls to 11-4 overall and 1-1 in the A-10.

On a night when Temple got just six points from its bench on 2 of 11 shooting, Khalif Wyatt's game-high 24 points and Anthony Lee's double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds were huge. Saint Louis (12-4, 1-1 A-10) came into the game having held its opponents to 37.8 percent shooting during its nine-game winning streak, but the Owls built an eight-point halftime lead by shooting 54.2 percent in the game's first 20 minutes and beat the Billikens at their own game by tightening things up on the defensive end and holding Saint Louis' leading scorer, guard Mike McCall Jr., to just six points -six below his 12.0 points per game average - on 1 of 9 shooting.

Again, the starting-lineup shakeup didn't affect the playing time or productivity of Wyatt and Lee, but Wyatt, who himself rebounded from a 2 of 11 shooting performance in Thursday's 57-52 loss at Xavier, had a feeling some sort of change was coming.

"Coach Dunph hasn't been happy with the way we've been playing lately," said Wyatt, who shot 7 of 11 overall, including 3 of 4 from three-point range, and 7 of 10 from the free-throw line to go with three assists, three steals and two blocks in 35 minutes, "so I guess he just wanted to - and not necessarily with just Scootie - try something different. Scootie played a lot of minutes today, though, and we're going to need Scootie down the stretch."

Since starting the season with a career-high 31-point effort in Temple's win at Kent State, the 6-foot-6 Randall, who's returning after a year off to recover from torn meniscus cartilage, has been - at best - inconsistent with his shooting. Since scoring 21 points in a Dec. 5 win at Villanova, Randall had been shooting a slim 29.5 percent from the floor and averaged 9.3 points per game heading into Saturday's game.

And when the Owls were trailing by three with a chance to tie Xavier inside the game's final minute Thursday, Randall took a rushed three-pointer early in the shot clock instead of running offense.

While Randall didn't seem happy with coming off the bench, he accepted Dunphy's decision.

"As a leader," Randall said, "I've got to go with the flow, so I was just seeing where I could make plays and get rebounds and tip balls to my teammates when I got in there. All the minutes I sat on the bench in the beginning, it was all a learning experience and I was seeing what I could do for my team once I got in there."

Randall's only bucket, a first-half three-pointer, pushed Temple to a 30-21 lead with a little more than four minutes to play before halftime. DeCosey, a promising freshman guard who has seen his minutes fluctuate like the weather - he played a career-high 22 minutes in the win over then-No. 3 Syracuse but just 19 in the last four games - was more concerned about getting the win that getting the start.

"This was a must-win," DeCosey told OwlScoop.com, "our second game in the A-10, so we had to get this game - just a bounce-back game. And from here on, we're just moving forward and trying to keep momentum going."

Dunphy isn't trying to single out Randall as the lone player on the team that needs to improve, but he does want his senior captain to snap out of the funk he's in.

"Scoot handled it really well," Dunphy said. "He's struggling a little bit. He's not making the same shots he was before and I'm just trying to loosen him up a little bit, to watch the game from the bench for a few minutes. But I think I might try this again with other guys as well."

One player who will not be coming off the floor unless he gets into foul trouble is the 6-9 Lee, who is steadily becoming one of the more underrated big men in the country and has now scored in double figures in his last seven games and now has three double-doubles this season. After Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans had cut Temple's lead to 47-42 with a little less than five minutes to play, Lee scored four straight, with the last two coming off an offensive rebound on his own missed free throw, to push the Owls back to a nine-point cushion.

Lee later scored on a putback and hit two free throws to help hold off Saint Louis, which never got closer than four inside the game's last eight minutes.

"Ant's been huge for us," Wyatt said of Lee. "He's been battling with big guys, offensively and defensively."

The left-handed Lee missed the entire 2010-2011 season as a true freshman after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. He averaged 5.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season as a redshirt freshman and is now averaging 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest.

"I feel like my biggest improvement is becoming more comfortable with the players I'm playing with," said Lee, who shot 8 of 13 from the floor and also turned in two blocks and a steal. "Last year we had a lot of senior guards and I was just trying to find my way and trying to fit in."

He's certainly doing that now.

As for the other end of the floor, defense hasn't exactly been Temple's strong suit since Lavoy Allen became a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers prior to last season, and the Owls entered Saturday's game having allowed teams to shoot almost 42 percent against them. But Temple locked things down against a Saint Louis team that had been shooting nearly 46 percent from the field by doing something it hasn't been afraid to do in the past - switching continuously, even if it means leaving a guard on a big man.

"I think we made some adjustments during the game," Wyatt said. "We started out early playing our regular solid defense and as the game went on, Coach Dunph and all our coaches made a good adjustment and started switching everything. Their bigs were three-point shooters and they were floating around the perimeter, so we just started switching (on) everything and our guards would end up on bigs and bigs would end up on guards, and we were able to contain them that way. We made some great adjustments throughout the game, and that's just our coaches."

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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