It didn't bring the electricity of knocking off the No. 3 team in the country at Madison Square Garden, but Temple's 75-57 win over Bowling Green Monday before a New Year's Eve crowd of 4,055 at the Liacouras Center counted just as much in the win column and represented an important step for an Owls team that looks to be hitting its stride as January approaches.
Nine days after beating third-ranked Syracuse in New York and six days before it was set to play a nationally-televised game at No. 6 Kansas, Temple (10-2) did not let down against Bowling Green (5-8) or let the Falcons hang around like it has with a few other opponents this season. Instead, the Owls shared the basketball to the tune of 23 assists on 27 field goals and built a 14-point halftime advantage and a lead that grew as large as 29 with a little more than three minutes to go.
On a day when seniors Scootie Randall and Khalif Wyatt scored just 11 and seven points respectively, the backcourt mates instead played the role of facilitators - Wyatt had eight assists and Randall swiped 10 rebounds - and helped pave the way for forward Jake O'Brien's team-high 15 points off the bench, along with a season-high 10 in 13 minutes from reserve guard Dalton Pepper and forward Anthony Lee's double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
And in the process, Temple recorded the program's 1,800th win. Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse are the only other programs to have accomplished that feat.
"It just shows the history of Temple," said Wyatt, who dropped a career-high 33 points against Syracuse but fought off a 1 of 7 shooting performance Monday by tying a career high in assists with eight. "A lot of good players have been through here, a lot of coaches - just a lot of history, a great tradition. It's a great accomplishment for the school and everybody who's been a part of it."
Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who took over for Hall of Fame coach John Chaney seven years ago, has been responsible for 144 of those wins and was, as always, mindful of history and tradition when talking about what the milestone means.
"When I first came to Temple seven years ago, I knew the quality of the people that had gone before me," Dunphy said. "Certainly at Temple, I thought I had a responsibility and an accountability to this institution and those people that gave me the chance. It's a wonderful university, spectacular basketball, tradition and history, and so I'm just pleased to be a very small part of it and happy for our guys that they can talk about the number.
"But more importantly, you're amongst some pretty heavy hitters in college basketball, and I think Temple should be very proud of its tradition in college basketball."
As of now, Temple is much better positioned than it was after losing to Canisius three days before knocking off Syracuse. The Owls were set to play Detroit Friday, but the game got postponed due to weather conditions in the Midwest. They could have come out Monday rusty and caught in a trap game with Kansas approaching, but they instead raced out to a double-digit lead behind three first-half three-pointers from the 6-foot-10 O'Brien and eight points and four rebounds from the 6-9 Lee.
Pepper, a West Virginia transfer who did not play at all against Syracuse and has struggled with his shot and confidence this season, was perfect all day, shooting 3 of 3 from the floor with two threes and 2 of 2 from the free-throw line to go with three rebounds, a block and a steal. In one first-half sequence, Pepper recorded his blocked shot, grabbed a rebound and later assisted on one of O'Brien's three-pointers.
The former Pennsbury High School star had been averaging just 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds per game and was held scoreless in 13 combined minutes against Alcorn State and Canisius before not playing at all against Syracuse last Saturday.
"I asked him, and he said his confidence is back," Randall said of Pepper. "He's shooting the ball well and he's been practicing well the last couple days as well. We tell him all the time, you're a good player, you're here and you're going to get your shots so you just have to take advantage of it. So I think from here on out, he'll make a big step in going out there and playing."
Defensively, guards Will Cummings (eight points, three assists, two steals) and T.J. DiLeo held Bowling Green's leading scorer, 5-6 diminutive guard Jordon Crawford, to just four points - 12 below his average - on 2 of 10 shooting. Forward A'uston Calhoun scored a game-high 22 points, but the Falcons' next-highest scorer was Damarkeo Lyshe with seven off the bench.
"I think we got stops when we needed them," Wyatt said. "We got a little cushion, unlike other games. We kept it on them and kept getting stops and closed it out. We did a good job and made shots today. Jake made a lot of shots. We shared the ball well, played really unselfish, and I think it just came down to us getting stops when we needed them."
Senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, just as he did in the win over Syracuse, quietly played a very solid game, posting 11 points, four assists, three blocks, two steals and no turnovers.
Freshman guard Quenton DeCosey, who has been nursing a sprained ankle, played the last two minutes of the game, and fellow freshman Daniel Dingle got three points and three rebounds in five late minutes.
Listen to postgame interviews with Fran Dunphy, Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson here: