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January 19, 2013

Reality check

With less than a minute to go and Temple trailing St. Bonaventure by four, the Liacouras Center's new sound system played Bill Conti's famous Rocky theme song.

That's all well and good when it amps up the crowd and serves as the prelude to a comeback win, but Temple fought a lot more like Spider Rico and a heck of a lot less like Rocky Saturday in an 81-78 loss to an 8-9 Bonnies team that picked up its first Atlantic 10 win against the Owls, who dropped to 12-5 overall and 2-2 in the A-10.

If you're familiar with the Rocky movie, you know Spider Rico was a Philadelphia club fighter that never made it out of the city. And if the Owls keep playing the maddening brand of basketball that led to Saturday's loss, their season will go about as far as Brooklyn, the site of this season's A-10 Tournament.

In other words, more losses like this will leave Temple, which has played in the last five NCAA Tournaments, on the outside looking in when Selection Sunday comes around.

Yes, Temple came into Saturday's game with an RPI of 32 (according to RealTimeRPI.com) and a big nonconference win over Syracuse in its pocket, but anyone who has watched the Owls play this season might have known a loss like this one was coming. Although the players insist it's not the case, they have continued to play up and down to the level of their competition, courtesy of a bad brew of missed defensive assignments and poor shot selection.

All that stuff reared its ugly head Saturday.

Oh, and by the way, this was St. Bonaventure's first win at Temple. Ever. The Bonnies were winless in their previous 31 games on North Broad Street.

Temple, which led by 34-29, with 2 minutes, 34 seconds left before halftime thanks to a Scootie Randall three-pointer, allowed St. Bonaventure to close out the first half on an 11-2 run. The Bonnies eventually opened up an 11-point lead at the 12:12 mark of the second half on a Michael Davenport three before the Owls climbed all the way back to within a point with 2:56 left on a pair of free throws by senior guard Khalif Wyatt, who dropped 31 points on a sizzling 10 of 13 shooting and a perfect 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.

But from there, things completely unraveled.

Another bad defensive rotation - and there were several of those Saturday - allowed St. Bonaventure swingman Demetrius Conger (15 points) to drop in a trey 16 seconds later, and Wyatt fouled out on a questionable charging call just 12 seconds later when he drove the lane. Bonnies guard Chris Johnson, who dished off a game-high seven assists, threw his biggest dagger with a three at the 1:58 mark that opened up a 75-68 lead for St. Bonaventure, one that grew to nine with two foul shots from 7-foot center Youssou Ndoye with 1:19 to go.

And with Wyatt off the floor and the Bonnies locking down forward Jake O'Brien, who scored all 16 of his points in the first half, Temple had finally dug itself a hole it couldn't escape.

In the postgame press conference, Wyatt and O'Brien looked almost despondent, especially Wyatt.

So how does this keep happening to Temple, this inconsistent cycle of knocking off a top-five team one day and losing to a sub-.500 squad another?

"I'm not really sure," said Wyatt, who committed five turnovers and was limited to 30 minutes due to foul trouble. "I know today St. Bonaventure made a lot of shots. Our defense wasn't that good. They played harder than us. They outworked us. There's really no excuse for it."

But how does that happen on a team that starts three seniors and has what coach Fran Dunphy has called the best depth he's ever had in his entire coaching career?

"Loose balls," Wyatt answered. "They get them, and we didn't get them. A couple of offensive rebounds down the stretch. They got to loose balls. They deserved to win today."

Realistically, Temple just hasn't been a good defensive team since Lavoy Allen moved on to the NBA. The Owls were allowing opponents to shoot 41.2 percent coming into Saturday and permitted the Bonnies to hit almost 50 percent (27 of 55) on their home floor, including 52 percent in the second half. All five St. Bonaventure starters, led by junior guard Matthew Wright's 22 points, reached double figures, and the Bonnies got 23 points off Temple's 11 turnovers.

And for as bad as the defense has been, the Owls aren't making good decisions on offense, either. They came into Saturday shooting 30 percent from three-point range, which ranks them 298th out of 347 Division I teams.

So what did Temple do against St. Bonaventure? It chucked up 34 threes and made 12 of them, and two of them came from guard TJ DiLeo inside the game's final minute when the deficit was basically too much to overcome.

Dunphy admittedly is still trying to figure out how to manage his lineup, and it's coming with mixed results. He started freshman guard Quenton DeCosey in Randall's place in last Saturday's win over Saint Louis and started O'Brien over senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson in Wednesday's two-point win at George Washington. He went back to his original starting five Saturday, and Wyatt was the only starter that showed up.

Sophomore point guard Will Cummings went 0-for-3 shooting. Instead of being mindful of his 29.2 percent shooting from three-point range, Cummings instead chose to attempt all three of his shots from beyond the arc and met with predictable results. His four fouls were twice more than his combined total of rebounds and assists. And Randall, who continues to work his way out of a funk, scored 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting and got sent to the bench on one occasion after turning the ball over on an ill-advised behind-the-back pass.

Hollis-Jefferson had five assists and two steals but shot just 1 of 4 and scored four points. Sophomore forward Anthony Lee, who might be the most valuable player on the team not named Khalif Wyatt, couldn't get much going in the low block against Ndoye, getting just six points and six shots to go with nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal. His four fouls limited the 6-9 lefty to just 24 minutes.

Off the bench, DeCosey went scoreless on three misses in 10 minutes, and junior transfer Dalton Pepper still looks lost. He had one turnover to show in one minute.

Freshman center Devontae Watson, who's very raw but could still perhaps alter some shots with his 6-11 frame, did not play, nor did fellow freshman Daniel Dingle. Both players have not seen the floor since picking up a few sparse minutes against Bowling Green back on New Year's Eve.

DiLeo's 11 points and four assists were both career highs, but he hit jus 2 of his first 9 shots - with three rimming in and out - before hitting those last two threes in the last 65 seconds. He played 31 minutes.

DiLeo, who always makes time to talk regardless of how he plays, admitted to having one or two of those defensive lapses. Like everyone else on the team, he's trying to put his finger on what's going wrong and trying to get things right.

"We've got to do it as a team," DiLeo told OwlScoop.com. "We can't do it individually. We've got to give help side (defense) sometimes. … We've got to take it on a personal level and not let your guy get by you, help your teammates and rotate around. It seems like some games we do it great and some games we don't, and I can't pinpoint it. There were a couple instances where I had some times where I had a breakdown defensively and could have helped other people at times, too. But I can't pinpoint it. It's not one thing, exactly."

Dunphy said after the game that, like he does after most losses, he'll make his team watch just about every minute of Saturday's setback, but it's often been said that not all of the leadership and direction can come from the coach.

Do the players get together to talk after a loss like this, be it after a game or practice?

"We do," DiLeo said. "We're actually a really close group. There's some days when Coach knows he's got to really be on us or really yell at us, and we kind of that day in practice, he likes to say it's us versus him in practice. And sometimes in those type of days when he's really getting on people and we really get frustrated, we work together and pick each other up and stuff like that. And a lot of times, we have very good practices those days.

"I think we feed off our momentum. And then we have a defensive breakdown and it's so deflating. We have all that momentum and it's one breakdown and they hit an open shot like they were today. Some games, we'll have a breakdown that won't hurt us. But today in a game like this when they're hitting open shots, that's why it's so deflating, I think."

Dunphy gave plenty of credit to St. Bonaventure, calling them "the best 0-3 (team) in anybody's league in America." But when he was asked why his team plays up and down to the level of its competition, Dunphy didn't pull any punches.

"I think you're overrating us," Dunphy said. "We're not as good as maybe people think we are."

Now it's up to his players to prove him wrong if they want to be playing deep into March.

Putbacks: Dunphy was asked why he only played O'Brien for seven minutes in the second half after playing 15 and shooting 6 of 8 for all 16 of his points in the first half.

"The one shot he took at foul line versus zone, it was not a shot," Dunphy said, pointing to a shot O'Brien missed entirely off the glass against St. Bonaventure when it went to a zone. "I'm not sure what it was. He was just not the same guy in the second half."

But then Dunphy again pointed to the fact that he's still trying to figure out how to manage all those minutes.

"But we have to manage that a little bit better," Dunphy said. "I need to do a better job on that. And the other part of it is if you're sitting in St. Bonaventure's locker room at halftime, aren't you saying, 'we're not going to let O'Brien get any shots.' So it's a little bit of each. The one jumper he took at the foul line versus zone was troubling to be honest with you, because I want him to be really solid with that shot and he wasn't."

Listen to interviews with Fran Dunphy, Khalif Wyatt and Jake O'Brien, along with OwlScoop.com's conversation with TJ DiLeo, here:

Khalif Wyatt, Jake O'Brien

Fran Dunphy

TJ DiLeo

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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