P.J. Walker gives Rhule, Temple reason to believe

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P.J. Walker gives Rhule, Temple reason to believe

Temple football finished the 2013 season with a forgettable 2-10 record. However, the occasional flashes left head coach Matt Rhule with reason to look forward to 2014.

At the American Athletic Conference's media day in Newport, R.I. on Monday, Rhule indicated that one of the biggest reasons to be excited is quarterback P.J. Walker.

“I think his best days are certainly ahead of him,” Rhule said on ESPN’s telecast of the American’s media day.

Walker threw for over 2,000 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games during his freshman campaign. He also showed the ability to tuck the ball and run, accumulating 332 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

“I think the biggest thing for P.J. -- and it’s why I really like coaching him -- is he doesn’t want to just be a statistics guy,” Rhule said. “He’s proud of what he did last year, but I think he wants to be more than that.”

After concluding the season with a 41-21 win over Memphis and a 387-total-yard, four-score performance from Walker as high notes, Rhule has plenty reason to believe in his young quarterback.

“The ultimate statistic for that position is whether you win or not,” Rhule said. “I think you saw a little bit in the Memphis game, one of the reasons that we won that game was when he got outside the pocket, instead of trying to win it all on one play, he threw the ball away. He checked the ball down, and he realized, ‘I have a lot of good players around me, let me let them win the game.’

“That only comes with experience. That only comes with some hard losses sometimes.”

Despite having 10 losses, Temple was not simply rolling over for opponents. Last year, the Owls lost six games by one score or less.

Temple was selected to finish eighth in the 11-team American in 2014, while Cincinnati was named the favorite with 17 of a possible 30 first-place votes.

“I think the biggest thing is last year was painful at times, but what it did was it really spurred our kids forward,” Rhule said. “They recognize now what it takes to win.

“As we move forward into this season, we’re excited because we know we can compete and we know we can hang in there. Now we just have to make the plays at the end.”

La Salle suffers demoralizing loss to struggling UMass

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La Salle suffers demoralizing loss to struggling UMass

AMHERST, Mass. -- Zach Lewis scored a career-high 37 points, including six three-pointers, and Massachusetts pulled away from La Salle 84-71 on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.

Lewis, whose 37-point effort was the best for any player in the Atlantic 10 this season, hit nine of his 16 field goal attempts overall and was a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line. Dejon Jarreau added 20 points and four three-ponters for UMass (14-15, 4-12).

Pookie Powell hit five 3-pointers and scored 24 points, and B.J. Johnson added 20 points to lead La Salle (14-13, 8-8).

Both teams shot similar percentages and had similar three-point totals, but the Minutemen finished with a plus-14 advantage at the free throw line.

La Salle remained within striking distance but a 13-4 stretch for UMass midway through the second half pushed its lead to 63-51. The Minutemen kept the Explorers at arm's length the rest of the way.

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career -- at least his Villanova career -- with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryl Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points -- 9½ below his average.

"He's getting better, that's the biggest thing," teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. "He's down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he's down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he's battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That's more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

"We know he's talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he's battling and the way he's not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that's the best part."

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5½ rebounds per game. The others were D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that's where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

"Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows," coach Jay Wright said. "We know. When he's in the game, we are executing at a high level. We're just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you've got to be able to (play defense) first and he's been doing that all year.

"(He's) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you'll probably see next year, but you've got to get the basics down first, which he's done an incredible job of this year. It's like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they're not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is because they don't get to see it all the time."

It's not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

"It was a process," Paschall said. "The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that's defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

"The guys welcomed me with open arms. It's a brotherhood here and we're all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It's just a matter of focusing on my job."

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he's 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

"Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he's come and in done what's expected," Jalen Brunson said.

'He's done a great job for us and we're extremely confident in him. It's hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he's done a good job."

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

"Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game," he said. "They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I'm trying to do."

As thin as Villanova is -- Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt -- Paschall has been a life-saver.

It's hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first, there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

"We see him getting better every day with his decision making," Hart said of Paschall. "Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

"One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he's doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he's going to do in the future."