Lee's key rebound ices Temple's win over St. Joe's

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Lee's key rebound ices Temple's win over St. Joe's

BOX SCORE

Call it the parting of the Cherry Sea?

With 28 seconds to play and Temple up by four, Owls junior big man Anthony Lee missed the second of two free throws. And he was the only one who thought to rebound.

Lee, with all his teammates back beyond the timeline and set up on defense, bolted over the free throw line as soon as the ball hit the rim, beat every St. Joseph's Hawk into the lane and grabbed his own rebound.

"I was working on that last night in the gym," Lee said. "So I just read it. And I'm glad I timed it right, because usually they call a violation if you step over [the line]. So right when I saw it hit off the rim and I saw where it was going, I just went a grabbed it."

He was promptly fouled again and put back on the free throw line. He made two more free throws that put Temple up by six -- and up for good.

After 38 minutes of basketball that featured 17 lead changes and a margin no larger than five, Temple (4-3, 2-0 Big 5) finally pulled away from St. Joe's (4-3, 0-1 Big 5), 77-69, at the Liacouras Center Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

While St. Joe's Halil Kanacevic and Ron Roberts -- two guys who have previously hurt the Owls -- struggled in the second half, Lee finished with a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double. Seven of those points came in the final 2:09, after the game was tied 65-65.

He bookended a Quenton DeCosey free throw with two lay-ins and then went to the foul line, where he made the first. Then, the miss and the rebound.

"Often times those [rebounds] don't get counted, because they say you went over the line and they take it away from you," Lee's coach, Fran Dunphy, said. "I thought he had enough sense to -- I'll wait to see it on the film -- but I thought he waited until it hit the rim.

"It was one of those lucky plays where the seas opened up for him and he got the rebound."

Lee was one of four Owls in double figures Wednesday night, along with Will Cummings and Dalton Pepper, each with a team-high 16, and DeCosey, with 10.

All three of those players had necessary bouts on the bench, albeit for different reasons.

DeCosey, who started each of Temple's previous six games, didn't take off his warmup jacket until eight minutes had gone by in the first half. He proceeded to score nine of his 10 in the frame's final 12 minutes.

"We don't have a lot of rules," Dunphy said. "Just do a good job with your time management. Just a statement, that's all. But Daniel Dingle did a job [starting in DeCosey's place], and Q was a really good basketball player tonight."

While DeCosey learned a lesson about "time management," Dunphy was forced into managing minutes himself. Temple was whistled for 12 fouls in the first half and five Owls went into the locker room with two or more fouls at the break. Junior Jimmy McDonnell, who started for the third straight game, played five minutes in the first and was called for three fouls.

To make matters worse, Lee picked up his third personal two minutes into the second and forward Mark Williams earned his third about 90 seconds later.

Then came the cramping.

Pepper, who had already scored 16, came off the floor with 10:26 to go after finishing on a fast break. He immediately went for water and spent the next eight minutes alternating between the stationary bike and using some kind of roller to remove cramps from both his legs.

This was while Cummings was jogging before a pair of free throws before he knew he'd have to stand still at the line -- also cramping.

This -- given the discipline and the fouls and the dehydration -- more than likely was not a game Temple would have closed even a few weeks ago. The Owls blew second-half leads in each of their first three games and ended up losing to Kent State and Towson because of it.

But Dunphy's decision to start McDonnell for the last three games has changed Temple's rotation and maybe provided the illusion of some depth. McDonnell's five minutes weren't anything special -- as that stat line above plainly shows -- but the box score ended up showing something else by game's end.

Temple's bench had outscored St. Joe's, 25-2. Against Kent State last month, it was Temple's own reserves that were beaten, 22-2.

It's not something you thought you'd hear before the season, but Temple is 3-0 in games started by McDonnell, who spent three seasons with the Owls cheering at the end of the bench. For what it's worth, he's yet to score in just over 13 total minutes.

But the Owls have nine scholarship players on this roster, and Dunphy's now using all of them. To the benefit of his team.

"Really, it's because of Jimmy," Dunphy said. "He's a good human being. He deserves this opportunity. We, just kind of flying by the seat of our pants, gave him a chance and I think he rewarded us with some pretty good play. But I think really there's more of a mental piece to it. It's not a statement about anybody else, it's just a statement about Jimmy McDonnell and how much he deserves to be out there."

Judging by the results, you'll probably see McDonnell starting again on Saturday, when Temple hosts Texas at the Wells Fargo Center at noon.

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

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Villanova Athletic Media Relations

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

VILLANOVA, Pa. — When star quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending injury early in Villanova’s 2015 campaign, Zach Bednarczyk was thrown into a difficult spot.

How could an inexperienced redshirt freshman be expected to replace the reigning Walter Payton Award winner? Could the Wildcats still accomplish all of their lofty preseason goals?

In the end, Bednarczyk probably handled it as well as could be expected, performing admirably in some spots (like when he spearheaded a late comeback against rival Delaware just after Robertson got hurt) and poorly in others (like when Penn upset Villanova for the first time in a century the very next week).

But now, after getting almost a full year of experience under his belt, Villanova head coach Andy Talley is expecting Bednarczyk to become a better, smarter player — and, most of all, someone who can lead the Wildcats into the FCS playoffs in Talley’s final season.

“I think the thing that he did last year was that he was a little bit of a gun-slinger,” Talley said. “He threw the ball around a little bit. Now he’s more judicious with where he throws the football, his outlet receivers. He’s not trying to gun the ball in all of the time and make a play.”

While Talley would certainly like his QB to cut down on some mistakes — he threw seven interceptions last season — he does appreciate that Bednarczyk possesses some of the same playmaking skills that made Robertson such a star at ’Nova, including the ability to gain yards on the ground.

In his first season last year, Bednarczyk led the Wildcats in rushing with 515 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to nabbing CAA co-Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This season, which begins for Villanova Saturday at Pittsburgh, Talley hopes he can match those running totals while becoming a 2,000-yard passer with fewer interceptions.

“Last year he was rookie of the year in the CAA but he really could have been an all-league player if he didn’t throw the ball in some bad spots,” Talley said. “I think he learned the hard way by having the ball go against him. In the last game of the year, we had a chance to tie for the championship and go to the playoffs if we had beaten JMU. And he threw two picks that went back for touchdowns. So he’s sort of learned his craft the hard way.”

That season-ending loss to James Madison still stings for the Wildcats, who finished with a 6-5 overall record and missed out on qualifying for the FCS playoffs for just the third time in eight years.

That’s something they hope to reverse in 2016 under the growing leadership of Bednarczyk, who agrees with his coach that he needs to become a smarter player.

“Last year I definitely took too many risks,” the sophomore QB said. “This year, although I still want to throw the ball around because that’s my strong suit, I definitely don’t want to force anything. I’ll try to cut back on my turnovers. If it looks like it’s too tight of a window to squeeze it this year, I’ll just tuck it and run.”

Bednarczyk will certainly need to be poised in the pocket with Talley admitting that the Wildcats aren’t as deep at receiver as they’ve been in years past. 

At the same time, he may not have to put too many points on the board, considering how good Villanova’s defense can be. Although the unit graduated star linebacker Don Cherry, who’s been in preseason camp with the Eagles, they still boast a veteran unit that includes linebacker Austin Calitro and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Kpassagnon, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound NFL prospect, is an especially intriguing player for the Wildcats.

“I think all the pro teams have been through to see him,” Talley said. “He can run. He’s tough. He diagnoses well. He’s in our business school, so he’s smart as can be. And he carries that over to the field.”

Kpassagnon, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team, is excited for his senior season but admitted that helping the Wildcats rise to the top of a loaded league won’t be easy. Villanova, which opens league play Sept. 17 vs. Towson, was picked fourth behind Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison.

“There’s no dropoff in competition throughout the CAA,” Kpassagnon said. “In some other leagues, there are a couple of teams that you know will obviously win the conference. But with ours, you never know.”

Of course, Villanova has aspirations beyond just winning the league. As always, the Wildcats — who check in at No. 23 in the STATS preseason Top 25 — will look to make a deep run in the FCS playoffs and, perhaps, try to send Talley out with his second national title.

“The goal is definitely a national championship,” Kpassagnon said. “We all believe we can do it. It’s something we have in the back of our heads.”

Penn State season preview: Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

Penn State season preview: Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

There are certain corners of the Interwebs where things are said and written just for effect.

Perhaps you’ve heard.

That being the case, it should come as no surprise that one scalding take heading into this college football season is that Penn State coach James Franklin is on the hot seat.

It’s understandable if you consider the fact that the Langhorne native has finished 7-6 each of his first two seasons, or that he is a combined 0-6 against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, the three teams he absolutely must beat to succeed in the rugged Big Ten East.

(Also to be taken into account is that the Lions lost to Maryland two years ago for the first time since 1961, and to Temple last year for the first time since 1941.)

Take a step back, though. Consider that he is still dealing with the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal — that, specifically, the draconian NCAA sanctions left him with a threadbare roster when he arrived from Vanderbilt.

Consider further that his own athletic director, Sandy Barbour, has his back, and that he is entering just the third year of a six-year contract.

Hot seat? Well, maybe a little toasty, but nothing more.

For the record, Franklin declined to play along when asked Tuesday afternoon about any noise pertaining to his job. He said during the Big Ten coaches’ conference call that he was concerned only with the task at hand — Saturday’s season opener against Kent State in Beaver Stadium and the day-to-day machinations of his team.

“Focus on that, not anything else,” he said. “Not any other conversations or anything else going on. Focus on the things we can control.”

He has said on other occasions that he considers this Year One of his program, since he finally has a full complement of 85 scholarship players (or thereabouts) at his disposal. He and his staff have consistently brought in top-notch recruits, something best reflected at the skill positions.

The Lions, however, are painfully young (12 players with senior eligibility) and have a new quarterback (redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley), questions along both lines and little depth on linebacker. They are also facing a tough schedule, especially early. September includes visits to Pitt and Michigan sandwiched around a home meeting with Temple, and later they not only face the Buckeyes and Spartans but also an always-respectable Iowa club.

So if they tank — if, say, they go 4-8 (not an impossibility) — then it is safe to say that Franklin might be in jeopardy. If they again piddle along in the middle of the pack, which seems more likely, he will almost certainly get another year.

McSorley, a smallish run-pass threat (at 6 feet, 201 pounds), would appear to be a better fit for Franklin’s preferred offensive mode than the departed Christian Hackenberg, a classic dropback type — particularly since new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, formerly the head coach at Fordham, has brought his no-huddle spread attack to Happy Valley.

McSorley spelled an injured Hackenberg midway through last season’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia, going 14 for 27 for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and he certainly has a pedigree. He was a rare four-year starter at Briar Woods High School in Virginia, leading his team to four consecutive state finals and winning the first three of those.

“Trace just has that gene inside him that just makes him a competitor, and just a winner,” said Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne, once McSorley’s high school teammate.

That is literally true. McSorley’s dad, Rick, played football at Richmond, and a paternal uncle, Jeff, played at Marshall. But McSorley has seemingly taken that DNA and run with it.

In his very first high school game he led his team, minus its top two running backs, on a game-winning 88-yard drive in the final minutes. And in his career he won 55 of 60 games.

“He was kind of smart beyond his years,” Briar Woods coach Charlie Pierce said. “I’ve been coaching for 27 years and a head coach for 17 years at a couple different high schools, and I’ve only experienced a couple players that had a football acumen like Trace. Trace had the best, by far, at an early age.”

Now he will be entrusted with a unit that promises to be heavy on run-pass options.

“I think that’s going to be one of the best things of our offense,” McSorley said, “because the defense can in one sense never be right.”

He has a guy who can run in sophomore Saquon Barkley (a school freshman-record 1,076 yards last year) and a bunch of guys who can catch, headed by Chris Godwin (69-1,101-5 TDs) and DaeSean Hamilton (45-580-6 TDs).

But the line remains a question, and only one projected starter — right tackle Andrew Nelson — will open in the same position he filled a year ago. (The new left guard is Ryan Bates, a redshirt freshman from Archbishop Wood.)

The defensive line, which lost three NFL players in Austin Johnson (Titans), Anthony Zettel (Lions) and Carl Nassib (Browns), is likewise unsettled. Only end Garrett Sickels returns.

Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, a Philadelphia native, was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in the 2015 opener against Temple. The fifth-year senior is back and will man the weak side, after playing the middle last year.

Jason Cabinda slid over from the weak side to fill the breach when Wartman-White was injured, and led the team with 100 tackles. He’s also back. So too is Brandon Bell (Mays Landing, N.J./Oakcrest High) on the strong side. He made 65 tackles last year despite “playing with two bad wheels” and “a shoulder that kept popping out,” according to Brent Pry, who was promoted to defensive coordinator after Bob Shoop left for Tennessee.

The secondary is likewise well-fortified, and includes cornerback John Reid, a sophomore from St. Joe’s Prep.

Bottom line: There are too many questions surrounding the Lions to believe they can challenge Ohio State and Michigan atop the division, and (perhaps) enough to drop them below the .500 mark for the first time since 2004. Split the difference, then. Figure that they remain a middle-of-the-road club, and that Franklin’s seat doesn’t become too hot to the touch.

Not yet, anyway.

Freelance writer Gordie Jones is a regular contributor to CSNPhilly.com.

Temple still searching for identity with perception changed

Temple still searching for identity with perception changed

Temple head coach Matt Rhule understands the outside perception surrounding his football team this season has changed after the Owls’ historic 2015 campaign.

That’s expected following the laundry list of accomplishments TU achieved last season, its second-ever 10-win season and its first AAC Eastern Division title among them.

From a perception point of view, Rhule hopes those outside Edberg-Olson Hall see Temple as a team that can win 10 games and could be ranked again in 2016.

“Perception’s different to me than expectations,” Rhule said last week at TU's media day. “So I think the perception is different, but our players … they understand that we can play at that level.”

With expectations higher — both on the inside and outside — Temple still faces challenges as its season kicks off Friday night against Army at Lincoln Financial Field.

“I don’t know if we’re a tough team yet,” Rhule said. “We’ll find out. We’ll found out if we understand what our identity is, but we are deep, talented.

“It’ll come down to whether or not we are going to be a physical, hard-nosed competitive team week in and week out. That’s the question that we have going forward.”

Rhule recently dismissed his first-team offense from a practice during training camp because he was displeased with its effort and it didn’t live up to the standard he sets.

That day, he didn't see what he wanted out of the group he's asking to lead his team, with seniors Phillip Walker and Jahad Thomas being elevated into the core leadership group.

Toughness was a characteristic the Temple teams before had. This is Rhule's team now, as he's heading into his fourth season as head coach. Everyone here is a Rhule recruit.

Is toughness something a team can see grow over time?

"I think you can see toughness every day, I really do," Rhule said. "I don't know if we're there yet. I don't know if we really, truly embrace being a really tough team.

"We like to win — we don't always like to compete. The really, really great competitors, when they're losing, they rally. Losing is when you see the lion inside them emerge.

"There are some guys out here that are doing that. When P.J. starts losing, he just let's go. When Jahad starts losing, Avery Williams, they want to come back and win."

By the same token, Rhule said he’s pleased with Temple’s development and attitude, but it still finds itself searching for its identity heading into its Week 1 tilt.

Army deploys a triple-option offense and an all-attack defense. It’s a unique challenge for a traditional team to get ready for, which is why Rhule’s highlighting the negatives now.

“We’re further away because we’re playing Army,” he said. “You’re trying to progress your team versus each other and then these last five days, you see a major jump usually. Well now, we have to now stop playing versus this defense and face a whole new offense and a whole new defense.

"So even when you get yourself ready for Army, then you're a little further behind the following game and then the following game and the following game. That’s just what it is. I’m not here to complain about it. That’s why I have a sense of urgency I haven’t had before because I can sense that.”

The Owls have holes to fill on defense with Matt Ioannidis, Tyler Matakevich and Tavon Young graduating to the NFL, both from production and leadership viewpoints.

Rhule doesn’t believe Temple can replace what those three brought to the table, especially Matakevich, who was the voice and face of a tough Owls defense.

Matakevich, a seventh-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers, left North Broad Street as the program’s all-time leading tackler at 493, among several other notable achievements.

In many ways, Matakevich represented Temple’s identity: tough, gritty and competitive. Now that he’s gone, the Owls’ identity sings a different tune, one Rhule still has to adapt to.

“We’re probably a quieter team on defense,” he said. “I was talking about that (the other day), sometimes I think practice is dead and then I turn the film on and we’re flying around.

“Last year, Ioannidis was standing right next to me, screaming at the defense. Nate D. Smith was saying off the wall things at practice like, ‘We’re going to kill you offense.’

“It was just a much different vibe. They were so competitive verbally. These kids are just quieter on defense, but on offense now, real leadership has emerged.”

One of the players Rhule expects to help shape the Owls’ identity is senior linebacker Avery Williams, who the head coach said has been a go-to guy for TU at practice.

Williams, who had a productive junior year with 49 tackles and an interception, wears No. 2, which is of significance because TU hands single digits to its toughest players.

The Baltimore native doesn't expect any more responsibility in his final season in the cherry and white because Matakevich is gone. For him, that leadership has always been here.

At Temple, Williams said, no one is on a pedestal and the players take equal responsibility. So now that Matakevich is gone …

“You got to replace a great, amazing player like him," Williams said. "You don’t replace him, but another guy just got to step up. All of us are great players. …

“We’ve never looked at one guy and been like, ‘Bro, you got to make all the plays because the rest of us suck.' If that hat on your head, you got to make a play.”

With two days until kickoff, what exactly is toughness?

“I define toughness to our kids all the time,” Rhule said. “Toughness is physical and emotional strength to handle adverse conditions and do hard tasks.

“So strength is something you develop, it’s not something you’re born with. You don’t ever see a baby and say, ‘Boy, that’s a tough baby.’

“You don’t say that’s a tough baby, you have to develop toughness, so we’re trying to develop it in the young players. It’s not an easy process.”