Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– Freshman forward Obi Enenchionyia is aggressive, intimidating, energetic, and honest too.
Enenchionyia’s performance off the Temple Owls’ bench dominated Tulane’s lackluster defense, as the Owls knocked off Tulane 55-37, making it three wins in a row for Temple. Enechionyia’s presence as Saturday’s sixth man positively impacted Temple’s execution on both sides of the ball, as he tallied home 12 points along with three outstanding blocks.
“Right now to be honest, I feel better coming off the bench,” said Enechionyia. “I like bringing energy to the team when we’re down or tired.”
Along with Enechionyia’s offensive surge, junior guard Quenton DeCosey started off Saturday’s contest drilling the first two buckets, knocking down back-to-back three-pointers to put Temple up 6-0 in the early minutes of the first half.
“Knocking down shots got contagious, and everyone started making shots,” said DeCosey. “I wanted to come out aggressive and my teammates found me.”
DeCosey lead the Owls in points with 17, dropping 4-7 from behind the arc and 6-9 from the field. Temple opened up the game with a commanding 12-0 lead, as Tulane’s stagnant defense was no match for the Owl’s perimeter and post game. Despite the early hot streak, Temple abruptly cooled off midway through the first half, due to poor shot selection and ball movement. Owls coach Fran Dunphy was still relatively pleased with the offensive game plan.
“We had a couple of forced shots,” said Dunphy. “We obviously need to be better at distributing the ball inside and outside.”
Temple did find difficulty in developing a productive game in the paint, as Tulane outmatch the Owls 20-12 in total points inside the box.
“We need to continue to get better inside,” said Dunphy. “We also need to be better and more efficient jump shooting.”
The cold streak of shooting was more than real for senior guard Jesse Morgan, who prior to the game was the Owls’ leading scorer in the last four games. Morgan managed to only drill two buckets on a total 17 attempts Saturday afternoon. The hot and cold pattern of shooting percentage has been an issue all season, but Temple’s heavy defensive pressure and action on the boards made the difference in the outcome. Tulane finished the first half with an abysmal eight points, shooting 3-24 from the field with nine costly turnovers. It was the first time that Temple held an opponent to under 40 points in a game twice since the 1993-94 season.
“These years are long for these kids,” said Dunphy. “There are so many things that can go on during the course of the season, and you’re going to get games like this that are very unusual.”
The defensive star for Temple was junior forward Jaylen Bond, who brought home ten total rebounds with two blocks. The remaining Owls contributed another seven blocks, eliminating any action down low for Tulane’s big men.
“We are getting better defensively,” implied Dunphy. “We didn’t allow Tulane to get any easy baskets.”
The Owls entered the locker room with a 28-8 lead at halftime, which left a number of fans scratching their heads due to the unusual score. Luckily for Tulane, they stormed back early in the second half, knocking down consecutive shots behind the arc in a 7-0 run to trim the Owls lead to just 15. Temple then responded immediately, posting their own 14-5 run with a little help from Enechionyia’s success in the paint.
“I don’t know if we’ve had a big man quite as athletic as [Obi] is,” Dunphy said. “He’s a talented guy and he’s going to continue to get better and better.”
In his first season as an Owl, Enechionyia has gradually transitioned from high school basketball to the fast-paced college game, and he is certain that his experience on the floor has been beneficial to his maturity as a collegiate athlete.
“At first it was tough, but I’m getting the hang of the physicality,” said Enechionyia. “When someone else makes a good defensive play, I get energized, so I keep trying to make big defensive plays.”
Fran Dunphy has been pleased with Obi’s level of intensity and overall hustle, but Enechionyia’s constant foul trouble has forced him out of games in late situations, and Coach Dunphy believes there is always room for improvement in any one of his players’ game.
“We need him at the end of games because he adds that spark,” Dunphy added. “He’s pretty mobile and can guard some perimeter guys better than the rest of our bigs.”
Temple finished off a roller coaster January with a 5-3 record, posting six wins in their last nine contests. The February schedule begins with three difficult opponents in six nights, as the Owls will visit South Florida and Memphis and host a potent Cincinnati squad at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 10.
“We need to keep winning and we need to win every game,” said Dunphy. “We have a tough week coming up with two away games, and we need to keep playing great basketball.”
Temple currently stands at an overall record of 15-7, holding fourth place in the American Athletic Conference at 6-3, three games behind in the loss column to first place Tulsa. The Owls will need to continue bringing their intensity and hot shooting as the regular season trickles down to its final nine games. Fran Dunphy realizes that his team cannot afford anymore roadblocks.
“We know what we have in front of us,” said Dunphy. “We just need to play good basketball.”