More often than not, this current edition of the Temple Owls gets asked about who will take the big shot down the stretch, and that's certainly a fair question considering the team lost three starters and more than 70 percent of its offensive scoring punch from last season.
But after Monday night's 81-77 loss to Kent State in the team's home opener before a crowd of 6,589 at the Liacouras Center, one that saw the Owls give up a 10-point first-half lead, an eight-point advantage in the second half with less than eight minutes to play and 11 three pointers, perhaps the more appropriate question is this:
Who will come up with the big defensive stop when it matters?
A lot of things are a work in progress just two games into the season for any team, and defense is certainly one of them for the Owls, who fell to 1-1 with the loss.
"Our three-point jump shooting defense was very poor," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "We over-helped way too much."
Kent State (2-0), which took the lead for good on a layup by forward Mark Henninger with 4:35 left to play, shot a modest 43.3 percent overall and just 39.4 percent (15 of 38) on its two-point attempts. On most nights, holding a team to that kind of shooting will net you a win.
But Temple allowed the Golden Flashes to shoot 50 percent (11 of 22) from beyond the arc, with Devareaux Manley and Derek Jackson, who each scored a team-high 17 points, hitting three treys apiece. Kent State forward Darren Goodson shot 2 of 4 from three, and K.K. Simmons scored six off the bench on a pair of three-pointers.
And yet, Temple still had chances down the stretch and simply squandered them.
With Kent State up by 77-73 with 29 seconds left, Simmons missed a pair of free throws, but Temple forward Anthony Lee let the ball slip off his hands on a rebound attempt, and the Golden Flashes maintained possession. Then Owls point guard Will Cummings stole the inbound pass, drove the lane but drew a charge and turned the ball over again.
Cummings, who scored a team-high 17 points, hit a late three to draw Temple within two at 79-77, but it came too late with just two seconds to play.
Lost in the shuffle during a season that saw the Owls fall just short of the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last March was the fact that Temple was not very good defensively. That group surrendered nearly 68 points a game and allowed its opponents to shoot almost 44 percent from the floor.
Monday night's loss, albeit two games into the season, showed the Owls still have a way to go before finding their defensive identity. With the clock approaching the one-minute mark, Temple trailed by a bucket and needed a stop but couldn't get one when guard Kris Brewer rolled in a shot in traffic for a 75-71 Kent State lead with 1:14 to go.
"Offense is always going to be there," sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey said. "We just have to get stops down the stretch, and we failed to do that a couple times."
Offensively, without a clear-cut leading scorer, Temple has still been fairly solid through its first two games. Monday night, all five starters scored in double figures, led by Cummings' 17 points and 16 apiece from DeCosey and Lee. Senior guard Dalton Pepper had 15 on 7 of 13 shooting, and freshman forward [db]Mark Williams had 11 points, three assists, two blocks and no turnovers in 26 minutes, earning his second straight start while sophomore forward Daniel Dingle, who failed to score on three missed shots in 16 minutes, came off the bench.
Temple had 15 assists on its 30 field goals and turned the ball over just seven times, but there were some blemishes on that side of the floor, too. The Owls went to the free-throw line 16 times in the first half but just three times in the second half, and Kent State's bench outscored Temple's by a decisive, 22-2 margin, with those two points coming from freshman Josh Brown.
Otherwise, Brown, sophomore center Devontae Watson and Dingle combined to shoot 1 of 7 in 34 minutes.
And just as Penn did Saturday night, Kent State had success getting back into the game by throwing some zone defense at Temple in the second half. After shooting 53.6 percent in the first half, the Owls cooled off and shot just 40.5 percent over the last 20 minutes and shot a slim 30.8 percent (4 of 13) from three-point range, settling for long-range looks instead of driving the line or working the ball through the top of the key or through the lane to try to care into the teeth of the zone.
That had a lot to do with getting to the free-throw line just three times in the second half.
"It kind of slowed us down, slowed our momentum down and we got kind of stagnant," DeCosey said of the Golden Flashes' zone.
Kent State coach Rob Senderoff watched the film of Temple's win at Penn Saturday night and took notice of the Owls' second-half struggles against a zone.
"That had a lot to do with why we went to zone," Senderoff said.
Temple turned the ball over just twice in the first half, but the Owls led by a slim, 42-38 margin at halftime thanks to 7 of 13 three-point shooting by Kent State in the first 20 minutes. Jackson, who had 13 first-half points for the Golden Flashes, made all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and Manley went 2 of 3 from three-point range in the first half.
Temple led by as many as 10, at 21-11, after a Cummings layup at the 11:31 mark of the first half, but Kent State eventually used a 10-0 run, capped by a Jackson three, to take a 30-28 lead with 5:26 left in the half.
Now the Owls have to bounce back Thursday when they play on the road against a Towson program that is pulling off a remarkable turnaround. The Tigers (1-0) returned all five scorers from last season's 18-win team and on Monday received their first vote in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in the school's history.