Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– Saturday afternoon’s standout performer was junior forward Jaylen Bond, as he brought home 16 total rebounds in Temple’s seventh straight victory, defeating East Carolina 66-53. Bond’s dominant presence inside the key helped the Owls score 19 points off of second chance opportunities, which also lead to 28 total points for Temple in the paint.
“I just tried to be aggressive by crashing the glass on both ends of the court,” said Bond. “I was trying to find my spots and play hard for my teammates.”
The Owls surely did find their spots in the first half, opening up the game with an 18-9 lead midway through the first half. Head coach Fran Dunphy decided to spice up his starting lineup, swapping regular starters DeVonte Watson and Quentin DeCosey for bench men Mark Williams and Daniel Dingle. The twist in the lineup confused the East Carolina defenders and forced uneven match ups in favor of the Owls, which lead to Temple outnumbering the Pirates 30-10 on the boards in the first twenty minutes. Temple entered the locker room with a dominant 34-18 lead, but an offensive struggle was evident, as the Owls shot just below 38% from the field including four of fifteen behind the arc. Senior guard Will Cummings only tallied four points in the first half, but managed to rally in the second, leading the Owls in scoring with 17 points along with seven rebounds and assists.
“We’re winning, and all that personal stuff doesn’t really matter to me,” said Cummings. “As long we’re coming out here and getting wins, I can shoot 0-30 and it won’t matter to me. I’ll try to do something else to help us win.”
Star forward DeVonte Watson struggled offensively off the bench, finishing with zero points on a single shot attempt. Mark Williams complemented Watson’s poor performance, tallying eight points with four rebounds in his fifteen minutes on the floor. Daniel Dingle also made a name for himself, adding nine rebounds to Temple’s total 49 boards. Freshman forward Obi Enechionyia missed his third consecutive game after suffering a minor ankle injury in a team practice last Thursday, but is expected to return to the lineup on the road next week against Southern Methodist.
“I don’t think we’re afraid to do what we did today and put Dan and Mark in the starting lineup,” said Dunphy. “We have ten guys out there that are playing and doing a good job, and we’re not uncomfortable with whoever is in the game.”
In spite of East Carolina’s weak first half, the Pirates quickly responded in the second half, trimming the Owl lead to eleven points with twelve minutes remaining. Unfortunately for the Pirates, open shots were not being made late, as Temple held a steady lead by the final buzzer. A concern for the Owls this season has been their ability to maintain a double-digit lead, but fortunately, the Pirates’ lackluster shooting percentage was no match for the skill set of Temple, despite the Owls being outscored in the second half 35-32. Finishing with only six makes on twenty-five attempts behind the arc, the Owls struggled with their favorite shot choice, but opportunities at the free throw line made up for Temple’s losses, as they drilled eighteen of twenty-five from the charity stripe.
“We’re not a team that’s going to dictate the tempo,” Dunphy said. “We stress it every day to work inside and out, but most times it depends on how the defense is playing you. I thought we moved the ball well in the first half especially.”
The Owls’ stellar defense forced seven East Carolina turnovers, while Will Cummings helped Temple finish with four buckets off those turnovers in the second half. The Owls also led the game for thirty-eight and a half minutes, while never surrendering the lead to East Carolina.
“I hope we take every possession very critically,” said Dunphy. “We want to take no possessions off, no matter the circumstance.”
The Owls were coming off an impressive home victory against Cincinnati Tuesday night for their sixth straight victory, and in the minds of the players, it is important to treat each game as if it is their last.
“We just try to do a good job of going into the next game and not worrying about the last,” said Cummings. “We have to take care of the lower teams and big teams, and we try to approach each game with the same importance.”
Temple’s victory over East Carolina extended the Owls’ current winning streak to seven games, improving their home record to 12-2 on the season. The Owls will begin a quick two-game road trip next week in seek of revenge, visiting the nationally ranked Southern Methodist Mustangs Thursday night along with a pit stop in Tulsa on Sunday. Temple currently stands in third place at 10-3 in American Athletic Conference play, yet, the Owls remain looking up at Tulsa and Southern Methodist, who are in first and second place respectfully. Fran Dunphy is aware of the talent on Southern Methodist’s roster, and he insists the only focus is on the next upcoming game, and not on the greatly anticipated AAC tournament in early March.
“We’re only going to discuss how difficult it’s going to be to play SMU,” Dunphy implied. “As soon as that game’s over, we’ll set our sights to Tulsa. We know how good these two teams are, and we need to play our best basketball.”