WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA – December may not be an appropriate month for teams or fans to glance at the fluctuating Bracketology projections, but Temple Hoops is continuing to build an impressive tournament résumé before the holidays.
In the Owls’ first six games of the season, which all took place on the road, they defeated two competitive schools from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and one from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). In their seventh game on Wednesday night, they sustained a trend – this time by adding a Big Ten program to the list in front of a hometown crowd.
Two pairs of clutch free-throws from Shizz Alston, Jr. and a pair of blocks by Obi Enechionyia in the closing minutes helped Temple squeak out a commendable 59-55 win over nonconference opponent Wisconsin before 6,713 at the Liacouras Center.
The Owls – who lost a stinker against George Washington in D.C. over the weekend – improved to 5-2 on the young season, while the Badgers – who have made the Big Dance every year since 1998 – dropped to 4-6.
It was Enechionyia’s two late swats of inside shots from Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ that overshadowed the All-American’s performance, as the dynamic 6-foot-10 junior forward still finished with a season-high 23 points for the Badgers.
“Happ is a pretty good player, as we all know,” said Enechionyia, who recorded four blocks. “I was playing the five, so I had to guard him. I just did what I could to stay straight up and contest each shot to the best of my ability.
“He just has good footwork, he can handle the ball. He’s a good finisher. Pretty much everything you want in your big man around the basket. He’s just a tough guard, but we were able to finish it out well today.”
Following those defensive plays from Enechionyia, Alston added the points. With 1:09 remaining, the junior guard sank two free-throws, and with Wisconsin forced to foul with seven ticks left, he made two more shots at the stripe. In doing so, Alston extended his consecutive free-throw streak to 52 – a program record which used to belong to Lynn Greer (49), who was also in attendance.
“I looked up to Lynn growing up,” said Alston, who scored 22 points. “I was at almost every one of his home games when he played here, so it means a lot to me, him being here and me getting the record while he was here.
“The most important thing for us was getting the win. The record doesn’t really mean as much if we would’ve lost.”
Alston was also impressed with how Enechionyia matched up with Happ, and he wasn’t afraid to admit that he likes the four-guard set with Enechionyia as the big.
“In my eyes, I feel like Obi’s just as good or even better than Happ,” he said. “I feel like Obi can be an All-American also, and I feel like he showed it down the stretch. He showed his worth down the stretch… Not many guys can guard him out there.”
Wisconsin, which scored 53 points on average in its last three games, shot poorly again on Wednesday, making 23-of-56 (41.1 percent) buckets. Although Temple didn’t play much better on offense (24-of-53, 45.3 percent), it was arguably its best defensive effort thus far – especially late up against a force like Happ.
“After George Washington, we knew we had to step up on that end and stop guys, which we didn’t do on Sunday. That was the emphasis all week and it worked,” Enechionyia said. “G.W. hit a lot of three pointers. Some of them were good contest, and some of them they were just wide open. We had to get rid of the wide-open ones, and make sure that every shot was contested well. We did that tonight.”
Owls’ head coach Fran Dunphy was also pleased with Enechionyia’s progress on defense and the unit’s physicality in the second half.
“Wisconsin has a really good program,” Dunphy said. “Grateful for the win, grateful for how we came back, and then grateful for our comeback late within the game. We were down three points late and we had a nice run there.”
Wednesday marked the beginning of a four-game homestand for Temple, and by taking travel out of the equation, the Owls are hoping to find some consistency on the floor. Despite those road wins against teams like Clemson, Auburn, and South Carolina, they’ve also laid eggs against two squads from the Atlantic 10.
On Saturday, Temple will host city rival St. Joe’s – fittingly another A-10 team.
“Seems like every time we get a big win, we play an A-10 school,” Alston said. “We’re back at this again.”
If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.