Offense carries Temple as defense keeps getting worse

Offense carries Temple as defense keeps getting worse
February 7, 2013, 12:15 am
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After every game, Temple coach Fran Dunphy and his players acknowledge that they have to get better on defense.

Then they find a way to get worse. In this case, much worse.

As Temple was reaching new defensive lows Wednesday night, its offense needed to set new season highs to stave off Charlotte in an 89-88 win at the Liacouras Center (see Instant Replay). That's because the Owls allowed the 49ers to shoot an obscene 60.4 percent from the field on 32 of 53 attempts.

Sixty percent does not constitute getting better.

"We didn't play our best basketball." Dunphy said. "I thought Charlotte shot it very well. Some of that is them. A lot of it is us. So our defense really needs a lot of work at this point."

Especially in the post. Temple allowed its last two opponents, St. Joe's and Charlotte, to score a combined 84 points in the paint.

"Team's are shooting high percentages because they're not shooting jump shots. They're pounding it inside," Temple's leading scorer Khalif Wyatt said. "If you're shooting a lot of shots in there, you're going to make a lot of them."

Charlotte 6-foot-9 forward Chris Braswell, for example, scored a season-high 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Bear in mind, Charlotte's leading scorer, 6-foot-6 swingman DeMario Mayfield, didn't even play. He's suspended indefinitely, but there's a solid 18 days before the Owls travel to Charlotte on Feb. 24 for a rematch.

"We've got to do our work early on the post-up guys," Dunphy said. "We're playing behind too many guys. Braswell really hurt us early. We didn't three-quarter him properly. We needed to front him a little bit more, we needed to double-down quicker when he did go … "

Actually, forget the post. Here's the real embarrassing part: Charlotte entered Wednesday night ranked 343rd out of the 347 Division I basketball teams in the country in three-point shooting (25.9 percent). Against Temple, the 49ers made 7 of 10 attempts.

Seven of 10.

That's why the Owls -- now 15-7 overall and 4-4 in the Atlantic 10 -- needed 25 points from Wyatt, a season-high 22 points from Jake O'Brien, a season-high 11 points from Dalton Pepper and a season-high 89 points as a team to win.

If you haven't yet picked up on it, season highs abounded at both ends of the floor Wednesday, serving as all-too-clear examples of everything that went right at one end and everything else that went wrong at the other.

"It was one of those games where it was going to be a high-scoring game because neither team was great on the defensive end," Dunphy said.

With that said, there were some positives -- all of them on offense.

While it allowed Charlotte (17-5, 5-3) to shoot 60 percent, Temple made 53.4 percent of its own looks on 31 of 58 attempts and finally gave Wyatt, who's been carrying the offensive load by himself at times, some much needed help.

O'Brien was 8 of 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 from three. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson chipped in with 11 points and a career-high five steals to help the Owls score 28 points off 19 Charlotte turnovers. And Pepper, the junior transfer from West Virginia who's struggled all year just to find a role, scored a season-high 11 on 4-for-7 shooting. Coming into the game, he was shooting 24.2 percent from the floor and had been held without a single point in nine of his 19 games this season.

Wyatt, by the way, continues to lead the conference in scoring and is averaging 24.9 points per game over his last eight contests.

"We just made shots today," he said. "Guys had shots against St. Joe's that just didn't go down. We moved the ball around a little bit more. Against St. Joe's, I was holding the ball a little too long. Today, we got it moving a lot more, a lot of different guys touching the ball, and guys stepped up. Dalton played really good, and Jake made some shots, and Rahlir made some shots, Will Cummings (seven points, four assists) played good. Just a balanced game."

It's just hard to get excited about any of that when the defense looks as bad as it does and when fifth-year senior forward Scootie Randall can't get out of his own way. Two games ago, Randall appeared like he was snapping out of his season-long funk with two impressive performances against Butler and Richmond. But over his last two games, Randall is a combined 2 of 12 from the field for six points. He didn't score a basket Wednesday night, but did commit four turnovers in 36 minutes.

Randall leads the team in minutes played (35.4) but hasn't produced at a high enough level this season to warrant all the time he's received, especially when Dunphy has guys on his bench -- Pepper, Quenton DeCosey, Dan Dingle -- who are struggling to get consistent run.

"You're asking me that question -- I have no idea," Dunphy said, obviously frustrated at having to continue to answer questions about Randall's performance. "I don't have the answer. If I had the answer, we'd sit down and I'd say 'Well now you'll be making shots, you're getting shots, you're more confident' -- I don't have it. I wish I did. I wish I could help him more than I am right now, because he's a fifth-year senior. He deserves to be out there, he's worked hard enough at it. Right now, he's got to play better than he's playing."

Believe it or not considering the final score, Temple actually looked like it had the game wrapped up, leading by 12, 83-71, with 3:39 to play. That was before a 14-5 Charlotte run cut that lead to just three points with 27 seconds to play.

Wyatt converted one of two free throws to put the Owls ahead four with eight seconds left, and then something totally irresponsible and inexplicable happened.

When Charlotte's Henry Pierria made a three at the buzzer to end the game 89-88, Randall came flying at him on a mathematically unnecessary closeout. Had Randall hit him, and had Pierria still made the shot, Charlotte would have had the chance to tie the game at the line.

Temple will find ways to keep its opponent in the game. Right up until the very last second.