Much has been made of the depth Temple coach Fran Dunphy has at his disposal this season, and it certainly came in handy Sunday afternoon at the Liacouras Center against Delaware.
In game that saw the Owls surrender a combined 54 points to Jamelle Hagins and Devon Saddler and allow the Blue Hens to shoot nearly 57 percent on a day when they were without two injured starters, Temple's 22 bench points helped the Owls hold off Delaware, 80-75, to get off to a 3-0 start for the first time in Dunphy's seven seasons on North Broad Street.
The Owls, who led by as many as 14 points a little more than two minutes into the second half, saw Delaware (2-4) slice Temple's lead to a point with 8 minutes, 30 seconds to go on a three-point play by the 6-foot-9 Hagins and to within three on three occasions in the game's final five minutes, but senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (10 points, four rebounds, four steals) answered on two of those occasions with a jumper and two free throws to keep the Owls' lead safe.
Temple jumped out to a 41-34 halftime lead with the help of a season-high eight three pointers. Scootie Randall and Khalif Wyatt, who led the Owls with 18 points apiece, hit two threes in the first half, as did reserve forward Jake O'Brien, who contributed 13 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
With Anthony Lee, Hollis-Jefferson and starting point guard Will Cummings all picking up two first-half fouls, Dunphy went to his bench and got a pair of three-pointers from swingman Dalton Pepper and a trey, four steals and three assists in 29 minutes from TJ DiLeo.
But Temple was never able to get comfortable in this game because it simply could not defend Hagins, who scored a career-high 29 on 11 of 17 shooting to go with a game-high 12 rebounds, or the quick and crafty Saddler, a 6-2 guard who got 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting.
Hagins, by the way, came into the game averaging 8.8 points per game, and Delaware coach Monte Ross, a former Saint Jospeh's assistant, was without starting guard Jarvis Threatt and starting forward Josh Brinkley, two starters that average 10.4 and 9.0 points per game, respectively.
Temple had not played a game since its 77-63 win over Rice eight days ago, and the rust showed at the defensive end. Hagins and Sadler combined to shoot 21 of 35 from the floor, but the rest of the team, which shot 8 of 16, wasn't exactly shut down.
"Hagins was really good and Saddler was really good, and we weren't very good defensively," Dunphy said. "We didn't do what we needed to do a number of times. We need to get into a little bit of a rhythm of playing, and we won't have any more excuses. We'll be playing Wednesday-Saturday, Wednesday-Saturday, Wednesday, I think, so I won't be in here giving you any more excuses as to what our defensive lapses were like tonight."
Temple's 8 of 16 three-point shooting in the first half was a plus, although the Owls petered out to a 3 of 13 mark from beyond the arc in the second half. Beyond the bad defense and inability to stop Saddler and Hagins, a positive development was the steady emergence of players like Cummings, who despite playing just 11 minutes, went on his own personal 6-0 run early in the second half to open up that 14-point lead.
Pepper, who starred at nearby Pennsbury High School alongside former Temple forward Lavoy Allen and played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to Temple, looked a lot more comfortable in his 15 minutes on the floor and contributed his six points after scoring a combined four points in the first two games of the season. And with Lee limited to 19 minutes due to foul trouble, the 6-9 O'Brien, a stretch 'four' on offense, did a better job than Lee on Hagins, contributing a blocked shot and three rebounds to go with his 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range.
Wyatt shot 6 of 12 and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line to get his 18 points and dished out a game-high seven assists, one shy of his career high. Randall shot just 6 of 16 overall, but three of those buckets were threes.
"We tried to guard them," Ross said. "We weren't very successful."
Temple will get into that Wednesday-Saturday rhythm Dunphy talked about when the Owls play at Buffalo Wednesday and at home Saturday against Wagner. The following week, things start to get interesting with a road game at Big 5 rival Villanova Wednesday, Dec. 5, and then a neutral-site game against Duke Dec. 8 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ.
"I think we need to defend better, I think we need to shot select better, and we need to better understand what our roles are," Dunphy said.
Nonetheless, 3-0 isn't such a bad place to be, and bench depth could and should be an added luxury for Temple moving forward.
"With Jake coming off the bench and Dalton coming off the bench and TJ coming off the bench, we know - with Jake and Dalton in particular - that they're going to be more comfortable as the season goes on," Wyatt said. "I think Dalton played his best game today and made some shots and made a couple plays. He was playing with a lot more confidence and was a lot more comfortable. And Jake hit some open shots and he played good for us, too. As time goes on, they're just going to keep getting more comfortable and hopefully they'll help us out."
Putbacks: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Anthony Lee is the only true post player with experience on Temple's roster, with Jake O'Brien being more of a 'stretch four' or wing forward. When Lee didn't get double-team help on Hagins, he struggled defensively.
Fran Dunphy was asked after the game how long it might be before 6-10 freshman center Devontae Watson sees more minutes with the hope of being a true center to play alongside Lee, who's more of a power forward.
"He could have helped us today," Dunphy said of Watson, one of only two players in the history of American high school basketball to have collected more than 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 blocked shots in his scholastic career, "but I didn't want to throw him to these wolves yet. It'll come soon and when it happens, I think Devontae will do a really good job.
"He's going to be a terrific basketball player. I think it's hard early on in your career, as I say to them all the time, it's not so much what you do well but what you don't do poorly. We need you to probably be mistake-free, but you've got to play in order to get through some of those mistakes. So it's coming for Devontae and I'm excited for his future."