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
happen."

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."

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."