Temple Somehow Survives Buffalo Despite Key Frontcourt Injuries

Temple Somehow Survives Buffalo Despite Key Frontcourt Injuries

The players aren't sure how they did it. Their coach isn't sure either. The 4,161 fans at the Liacouras Center also more than likely lack an explanation.

Call it luck, determination or even divine intervention, but whatever it was the Temple Owls are surely grateful. Their 87-85 overtime win against the Buffalo Bulls on Wednesday was as ugly as it was practically inexplicable.

And while most will be understandably perplexed as to how the Owls pulled out a game in which they were forced to play a five-guard set for extended minutes, redshirt freshman Anthony Lee — whose last-second putback won the game for Temple — knows exactly where to give the credit.

"I think I'm really blessed," Lee said. "You know, I believe in God. So, at the end of the game, I was telling God, 'I know I've been playing bad this whole game, missing easy shots, not rotating, not doing the things I'm capable of doing.' And I wanted to make it up to my teammates, and to myself. And I had a feeling, really, that I was going to get a chance to do something, to get a tip or something, and it just … came through."

Help from up high seems as good as any explanation for Lee and the Owls, who struggled all night from the floor — shooting just 36.4 percent — but made every shot they needed to down the stretch. Indeed, that game-clinching putback was the only made field goal for the 6-9 forward during his 25 minutes played.

Khalif Wyatt, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez all suffered similar struggles, shooting a combined 20 for 56. Still, in spite of those totals, all three would make key contributions from long range to keep the Owls in the game. The trio combined for 10 threes.

"I know we made some big shots," Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said.
"Khalif made a couple big shots. Juan made a big shot. But that's what
it takes: guys who have confidence in themselves to step up and make it

Temple regrouped from an early 12-3 deficit to ahead 35-34 at halftime, but fell behind 28 seconds into the second half and never regained the lead in regulation. Their largest deficit in the second half was six — on three separate occassions — with 4:23, 3:51 and 1:22 to go.

But with seconds left in OT and the game tied at 85, Wyatt missed a three, and Aaron Brown tipped the rebound to Lee, who hit a floater in the lane for the game-winner.

"I just saw the shot go up," Lee said, "and [Brown] tipped the ball back. I reached up and grabbed it and floated the ball up 'cause I saw time was expiring."

Temple (8-3) has now won six of its last seven and 25 straight at home, the longest streak in school history and fifth longest current streak in the nation (tied with Purdue). They finished the MAC portion of their out-of-conference schedule 3-1.

When asked how it felt to play as bad as both he and teammates admitted to playing and still come out on top, Fernandez was at something of a loss to explain it himself.

"I mean, when you analyze it after the game, it says something," he said.

Just what that something is, even his coach can't quite identify.     

"There was just a belief, I think, that these guys all had at the end," Dunphy said, "and I'm hoping that will be a signature of this team that they will find a way. We certainly didn't do a good job on the defensive end … but if you're going to tell me we won this game in a hard-fought fashion, and found a way to do it, I'll be pleased."

The errors on defense to which the coach is referring were no doubt exacerbated by the absence of 6-6 forward Scootie Randall and 6-10 center Michael Eric. Buffalo scored 50 of its 85 points in the paint, as 6-7 junior forward Javon McCrea led all scorers with 28 points on 12-for-16 shooting.

Try as he did, the 6-9, 205-pound Lee proved unable to fill the void left by injured veteran teammates. Regardless, Dunphy seemed grateful for and encouraged by the performance.

"McCrea is a tough guy to guard down there," Dunphy said. "So you're asking a redshirt freshman who is, again, tremendously undersized in terms of width and girth [to do that]. He tried, but he's got a whole lot of work to do."

"But he's what we got, and I don't want to have anybody else. He's a good kid — Anthony. And I was thrilled for him to have that last shot go down."

The fact that Lee even made it to the end of overtime is pretty impressive considering both he and power forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson had both registered four fouls with over nine minutes left to play.

At that point, Temple was forced into multiple occasions in which it had play five guards at once. In spite of their disadvantage in height, the Owls would still manage to outrebound the larger Bulls, 45-44, a total no doubt aided by their 19 offensive boards. Those putback opportunities coupled with 21 forced turnovers resulted in 50 points for a Temple team that  struggled to knock down jump shots.

If they're going to be successful moving forward, the Owls will need that sort of team effort when it comes to rebounding and forcing turnovers, as additional help doesn't appear to be coming soon. Eric is expected remain out for the next few weeks and Randall is seriously considering exercising his option to a medical redshirt; the latter could make an announcement regarding his status as early as Thursday.

"We're undersized and we're 'under-girthed,'" Dunphy said. "But that's the way it is. We're going to have to battle like crazy and find a way to win games. These guys came up with some big, big shots at the end, and I'm proud of their effort today. Unfortunately, I think we're going to have a lot of these down-to-the-wire games, and we're just going to have to find a way to survive."

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

Every morning on his way to work, Jaylen Watkins drives down Broad Street toward the NovaCare Complex and thinks back to his three months on the Bills' practice squad.

The former fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2014 joined the Bills' practice squad after the Eagles cut him last Sept. 5 in what he has previously referred to as a “humbling” experience.

“I try to never forget that moment because it was definitely a soul-searching moment,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “Anyone who is released or fired from their job, you have to do some soul-searching.

“Every day that I drive down Broad Street, I think about Buffalo and how far I’ve come and just not wanting to be on a practice squad again. Nothing’s wrong with the practice squad, but my goal is to be on the 53 and making contributions to the team.”

Watkins isn’t just on the Eagles’ 53 after rejoining them late in 2015. For the rest of the 2016 season, he’s also expected to have a major role.

After Ron Brooks was lost for the season when he tore his quad tendon against the Vikings, Malcolm Jenkins is the Eagles’ new slot cornerback. That means that Watkins, 23, will be the second safety on the field in the team’s nickel package.

That meant that he played 46 snaps against the Vikings after Brooks went out. And with how much teams pass in the current NFL, he’ll probably play a considerable amount the rest of the season.

“It’s something that I’ve been waiting for and I’ve just been patient,” Watkins said. “I’ve been waiting for this experience, so I’m just excited. This week was amazing for me. ... It was good for me this past week to be in the game plan and putting yourself in position that this could possibly be me on the first play of the game.”

Jenkins has said multiple times that he enjoys playing as the slot corner, but until Brooks went down, the team thought it was better off with him staying at safety.

With the secondary shuffle, what’s different with Watkins at safety instead of Jenkins?

“Nothing really man,” the Eagles’ other starting safety, Rodney McLeod, said. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality this whole year. ... Guys have a lot of experience back there. I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. It’s obviously an unfortunate situation with Ron playing great. But Jenkins is ready and so is (Jalen) Mills and Watkins.”

Watkins was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2014 and played just four games as a rookie before he was cut at the start of his sophomore season. He spent three months in Buffalo, where his younger brother Sammy is a star receiver.

When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Watkins was moved to safety. He quickly asserted himself as the first option off the bench at that position.

And just like McLeod and Jenkins, he’s a safety with a history and knowledge of every position in the secondary.

“He’s kind of our Tyrann Mathieu a little bit as far as being able to play safety, being able to play nickel, being able to play corner, being able to play all those positions,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “A swiss-army knife if you want to call it that. For him, it’s just about continuing to get reps, continuing to be confident.”

Jenkins, McLeod and Watkins are so interchangeable, Watkins joked that sometimes they get confused because they forget which position they’re playing. According to McLeod, there haven’t been any communication issues between him at Watkins when Jenkins moves down into his role as the nickel corner.

Watkins still thinks about his time in Buffalo, but he also thinks he’s a much better player now than he was before he went there.

“Just more confident player, I would say,” Watkins said. “My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. Now, I’m just confident and relaxed when I go out and play, making plays, doing what I did in college. I think I’m a much better player than before.”

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz's Rookie of the Year odds took a hit, the Eagles' Super Bowl odds shortened and the Vikings' lengthened after Sunday's 21-10 win.

The Eagles are 33/1 to win it all, a week after being listed by Bovada at 50/1. The Vikings, meanwhile, went from 7/1 to 9/1. They still have the third-shortest Super Bowl odds in the NFL and are two spots ahead of the Cowboys (14/1). 

Wentz, who had his worst statistical game against Minnesota, is now 9/1 to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada. Last Wednesday, he was 6/1.

Wentz trails Cowboys studs Ezekiel Elliott (2/5) and Dak Prescott (11/5) on that leaderboard.

As far as this week, Wentz is favored to throw for more yards than Prescott. Wentz is 5/7 to outgain Prescott through the air in Week 8, while Prescott is 1/1 to outgain Wentz.

Elliott's over/under rushing total against the Eagles is 99.5. He's rushed for 130-plus yards in each of his last four games, and the odds are 3/1 that he'll reach that number again this week. 

The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Washington's Matt Jones (16 for 135).

Elliott is also now on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. Dickerson had 1,808 in 1983; Elliott is on pace for 1,875. Will Elliott break that 33-year-old mark? A "yes" bet pays 2/1; a "no" bet pays 1/3.