Owls lack scoring punch in loss to No. 21 UConn

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Owls lack scoring punch in loss to No. 21 UConn

BOX SCORE

They were struggling to win before. And that's when Quenton DeCosey was making more than half of everything he threw at the basket.

The Temple Owls failed to follow up their upset win over No. 23 SMU, falling on Thursday night to No. 21 UConn, 68-55, at the Liacouras Center (see Instant Replay).

The loss drops Temple to 7-18 this season and a 2-11 in the American. Temple's 18 losses are tied for its most under Dunphy -- the 2006-07 Owls had 18 his first year -- and are also tied for the most in his 25-year coaching career.

"We're in a stretch where [we're playing] five Top 25 teams in a row," Dunphy said.

"I think, we've looked at it, we will have played 12 times against teams that have been in the Top 25 at some point during the course of the year. But that's what you want, you want that challenge, and we've been presented with that."

DeCosey led the way with a team-high 16 points on 5 for 15 shooting. Nothing any of the Owls did Thursday could be called efficient. Temple went 19 for 56 shooting from the field (33.9 percent) and 5 for 18 from three (27.8 percent).

Though the defense was much improved from the last time these two teams played -- when Temple let UConn score 90 en route to a 24-point loss -- it was the offense that cost the Owls this time around.

Temple went through two different stretches -- one lasting 6:27 and one lasting 9:48 -- without a field goal.

"We struggled to score against a really good defensive team," Dunphy said. "[UConn center] Amida Brimah changed a bunch of shots, but we had our share of open looks from the perimeter. Obviously, we didn't do a great job of knocking some of those down.

"There were other times when we had some poor choices. We needed to come to jump stops, and look for more drive-and-kicks than we did trying to drive all the way to the rim."

Still, Dunphy said he was pleased with most of the looks. His team just couldn't knock down its open shots.

DeCosey went 0 for 5 from three and senior leading scorer Dalton Pepper was a disastrous 4 for 18 from the field. DeCosey did, however, grab a career-high eight rebounds.

It's been a tough stretch for DeCosey, who started the season so well. After a poor opening game against Penn, the sophomore wing ripped off a 13-game stretch in which he was shooting 52.5 percent from the field. He had scored in double figures in 17 straight games.

But in his last nine outings, in which Temple has gone 2-7, DeCosey has made only 37 of his last 118 attempts (31.3 percent).

Dunphy has been leaning on DeCosey -- and Pepper, for that matter -- heavily. During a five-game stretch in January, he had played 198 of 200 minutes, participating in three straight games in which he never came off the floor.

"I'm just in a little slump," DeCosey said, "but I'm trying to work hard every day and doing whatever I can to get out of it."

DeCosey, like Dunphy, was asked about Temple's schedule, especially this murderer's row of five straight games against the Top 25.

"It's a tough schedule. It's a change coming from the A-10 to this conference," DeCosey said.

Temple was 5-5 before opening league play. The Owls are now 2-11 in the American and have dropped 13 of 15 games since closing 2013 at .500.

"After we got a couple of losses, we kind of got down on ourselves, started feeling sorry for ourselves," DeCosey said. "We stopped competing hard every night."

"During the SMU game, we kind of got that back, and we're trying to carry that over through the end of the season."

Temple has just five regular-season games remaining. The Owls visit No. 24 Memphis and No. 11 Louisville before returning home for games against Houston and UCF and finally finishing at USF.

The inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament tips off in Memphis on March 12.

The Owls currently find themselves tied for last place in the league with UCF. USF sits just barely ahead at 3-11.

All 10 conference teams make the tournament. And half of those might end end up going to the real tournament.

"It's been a tough road to hoe," Dunphy said, "but we've got more in store."

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova faces 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova faces 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

It's something Villanova is constantly battling, constantly fighting. Jay Wright feels it every day and so do his players.
 
The national championship hangover.
 
About 10½ months ago, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and several other members of the current Villanova basketball team beat North Carolina, 77-74, at Reliant Stadium in Houston to win the national title.
 
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Wright’s challenge this year has been to try to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.
 
He has a group of young kids who’ve scaled the highest mountain, who’ve lived a dream, who’ve experienced something only a handful of college basketball players ever get to experience.
 
And with that championship has come a sense of accomplishment that’s certainly deserving and understandable but also at odds with the hunger Wright needs from his players to be at their best every moment of this season.
 
That’s the battle Wright and his team is facing. Beating the NCAA championship hangover. 
 
“It’s definitely there,” Wright said Saturday after the Wildcats beat Providence at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s something you have to deal with all the time, and as you have success it continues, and I’m sure when it comes NCAA Tournament time, it’s going to be (even stronger).
 
“I get it. Everybody said it to me and if someone asks me next year I would say the same thing, that it’s there and you really, really have to address it and deal with it. Every day.”
 
So far, they’re addressing it and dealing with it magnificently.
 
Villanova is 19-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Wildcats’ only loss so far was to No. 12 Butler by eight points at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
 
Although Villanova graduated Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the nucleus of last year’s 35-5 team is still here. Eight Wildcats averaged 17 minutes or more last year, and six of them — Hart, Jenkins, Brunson, Darryl Reynolds, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth — are still in the program, although Booth is currently injured.
 
Hart, Villanova’s national Player of the Year candidate, said the championship hangover is a real thing he senses every day.
 
“Definitely,” he said. “Coach has been coaching longer than we’ve been alive. He’s got the experience, we’ve just got to lean on his experience. He’s been through these situations, and we just have to be humble and be coachable.”
 
The last team to win a national championship and get off to this good of a start was Duke in 2010-11.
 
But that Duke team lost its 21st game. A win at Marquette on Tuesday would make Villanova 20-1, and that would be the best record to start a season by a national champion since Duke opened 23-1 in 2001-02.
 
So from the outside, it seems like smooth sailing. But Wright swears the championship hangover is something he has to deal with every day.
 
“It’s everything,” Wright said. “You sense that home games are like shows, they’re not competitions. You can just sense it. You can feel it. Everybody’s coming to see the show.
 
“You can’t do that as a player because the other team’s coming in to beat the top team in the country, and they’re at another level. So your players sense it. Everything that goes on around them. The way everybody treats them, and what’s going on in their mind.
 
“They’ve done it. I’m sure there’s some times where Josh and Darryl and Kris are like, ‘All right, we’ve done this already, let’s get through this, let’s get to the NCAA Tournament.’ They never say it, but they’re human beings.
 
“You know there’s going to be some times, some times, when I’m on their butts about little things and they have to think, ‘Come on man, we did this already.’ You know? Then they catch themselves. They never say it, but I can just sense that sometimes.”
 
But the Wildcats keep on rolling. They’re now a remarkable 116-14 in four years with Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds on campus, by far the best record in Division 1 since the start of the 2013-14 season.
 
If anything, Jenkins, Hart and Brunson have all been even better this year than last.
 
Jenkins, who hit the historic buzzer-beater to topple North Carolina in the title game, has career-high averages of 14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals and is shooting a career-high 43 percent from three.
 
Hart is shooting a career-high 53 percent and averaging career-highs of 19.2 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

And Brunson, a sophomore, has blossomed after taking over the point, with 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 2.5  rebounds per game.
 
“We just have to continue to get better,” Jenkins said. “I believe every guy in our locker room wants to continue to grow and become better. We’re not just satisfied with something we did last year. This is a brand-new year.”
 
Wright was asked if he’s ever had to deal with anything like this before.
 
He didn’t hesitate before saying simply, “No.”
 
In 2009, Villanova went 30-8 and reached the Final 4 but there’s no comparison, he said.
 
“Even after going to the Final 4 in ’09, a lot of those guys left,” Wright said. “We graduated six guys so it was a whole different team.
 
“We’ve got a lot of guys back. We only lost two starters. So all these guys have done it. Mikal Bridges didn’t do it as a starter, Darryl Reynolds didn’t do it as a starter, but they don’t think that way, kids don’t think that way. People don’t treat them that way. Even Jalen Brunson, he started but he was in a different role, but people treat him that way. ‘You’re the national champions, you did it.’
 
“Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono), Daniel (Ochefu), three walk-ons were leaders, they did a lot too.”
 
The Wildcats lost not only a Big East Player of the Year and one of the best big men in the program’s history but also a projected starting guard to injury and their top recruit to eligibility.
 
And they’re 19-1 and No. 1 in the country.
 
You can make a case that Wright is actually doing a better coaching job this year than last year.
 
“It’s just constant,” he said of the 2016 hangover. “They’ve handled it far better than I ever thought 18- to 22-year-olds could, but it’s a constant challenge.
 
“I know you (writers) have children. That’s exactly what it is. Your kid has some good days in school and does well, does his homework, (and thinks), ‘Yeah, I get it.’
 
"'OK, don’t get cocky now.’ Eighteen to 22. And they’ve been amazing. Amazing. But we definitely have to address it all the time.
 
“And I’m not complaining about it. I would take this challenge every year. There’s no reason to complain. You’re a jerk if you’re complaining about it. I’m just being honest about it, that it’s something we address. And I’m happy to do it. And so are they.”

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

BOX SCORE

The last thing Saint Joseph’s basketball players usually read before they leave the locker room is one word: “Win.” It’s the word coach Phil Martelli typically goes with.

But after three straight defeats and losses in four of five since losing top scorer Shavar Newkirk to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 30, Martelli decided to change what he wrote on the board.

Saturday night at the Palestra, in a St. Joe’s home game against Big 5 rival Penn, Martelli said he wrote: “Chase the taste.”

Led by sophomore point guard Lamarr Kimble, who played all 40 minutes, the Hawks tasted a victory, holding off the Quakers, 78-71 (see Instant Replay).

“To walk around for two weeks without a win, it’s been miserable,” Martelli said. “And I haven’t made it easier on them. Because we are not injured. This team is not injured. The team that got dressed in that locker room and came out on the court, that’s our team. Everybody starts the conversation with: ‘Due to the injuries have you…’ No. It has nothing to do with it. There’s injuries all over the country. 

“But the recurring themes, the turnovers, really, in a way, insanity. Shot selection at times, insanity. All of that had to be corrected and it had to be corrected in a harsh way. I wasn’t really that pleased with myself but I had to get after them and make sure they knew no one felt sorry for them.”

Kimble, especially.

With Newkirk gone for the year, the Hawks are probably going to go as far as the Neumann-Goretti grad takes them. In a familiar building, one which he tasted Catholic League titles in, Kimble led all scorers with 23 points. He added five assists and three rebounds. 

But, most importantly, he had just two turnovers. In the five previous contests since Newkirk’s injury, Kimble had 31 turnovers, including nine last time out in a loss to Massachusetts. 

“First of all his leadership hasn’t changed at all,” Martelli said. “He’s been very forceful, very accountable. He has not played well.”

You wouldn’t have known it Saturday night. 

The confident guard shot 6 of 13 from the floor, including 2 for 5 from deep, and made nine of his 11 free throw attempts. In a game which the Hawks utilized a speed advantage to play, as Martelli called it, “downhill,” Kimble and James Demery (9 of 12 from the line) really opened up the floor in the second half after Penn had battled back from a 15-point deficit to take a brief lead.

The Hawks (9-9, 2-4 Atlantic 10) got to the line 43 times (shooting 72 percent) while Penn (6-9) took just 15 free throws.

Demery had 15 points for the game, 11 coming in the second half. Freshman Charlie Brown contributed a career-high 19 points and nine boards.

The three of them were critical down the stretch in pulling away from Penn, which got 19 points from Matt Howard and 15 from freshman Ryan Betley.

Betley hit a big corner three to pull Penn within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left. But after two Brown free throws and a stop on defense, Kimble was fouled shooting a three pointer by Penn’s Jackson Donahue with the shot clock expiring. The miss would have given Penn a chance with a manageable clock.

Instead, he made two of his three attempts and pushed the lead to eight with just over a minute and a half left.

“There was a lot going into this game,” Kimble said. “One, playing at the Palestra, everybody knows the amount of history. It’s the Mecca, basically. The place to play in college basketball. Two, reversing our three-game losing streak and trying to start fresh. We know that if we took our losses and took our stunts that we still have the chance to improve as a group.

“It does a lot. It’s definitely a confidence booster. We’ve got a lot of young kids. Young kids ride on winning. When you’re losing, it’s difficult to turn that around when you’re younger. We don’t have the most experienced group so we definitely have to take our wins and just ride on that and keep pushing. Hopefully the energy has changed and it’ll hopefully carry on to the next game.”

That next game is Tuesday.

“Tomorrow we start for a tough game at St. Bonaventure,” Martelli said. “And we start that in eighth place. That’s average for the league. And 9-9 (overall) is average."

Up to this point, they’ve been exactly that: average. Martelli acknowledged as much.

But Saturday changed the taste in the locker room. And provided enough proof to say Kimble’s play will go a long way in determining the fate of the Hawks.

“I’m with him. He’s with me,” Martelli said. “And we’ll ride this out.”