Make it two in a row for the Temple Owls when it comes to playing and winning needlessly troublesome basketball games. While Buffalo was admittedly a bad matchup on Wednesday given the Owls' lack of size under the basket, Delaware's considerably shorter lineup should have never been an issue.
Alas, it was, as Temple barely escaped the Carpenter Center on Friday night 66-63, notching their 17th straight victory over the Blue Hens.
Delaware sophomore Devon Saddler led all scorers with 18, but could not hit an off-balance three-point attempt to tie the game as time expired. He, along with freshman guard Jarvis Threatt, made life difficult for the Owls in the second half, repeatedly beating the Temple perimeter defense off dribble-drives to the basket.
"On the defensive end, we're still struggling a little bit," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said during his post-game interview. "We've got to be better in terms of keeping people out of the lane.
"One time, Juan [Fernandez] gave up a dribble-penetration move by Saddler, and we've got to be better at keeping people in front of us without fouling. So, we'll continue to work at that, but we need to be better on defense."
Unlike Saddler, who was consistent all night only to come up short at the end, Temple's Khalif Wyatt went just 1 for 10 from the field before nailing home a three to put the Owls up one with 35 seconds remaining. He then snagged a defensive rebound off a missed Kyle Anderson jumper, and eventually found himself at the foul line, where he drained both of his free throws to put Temple ahead by three with just six seconds left on the game clock.
His struggles earlier in the night aside, neither Wyatt's coaches nor his teammates had any doubt in his capabilities when it came time for junior guard to make the play that would ultimately win the
game for Temple.
"My teammates told me to keep shooting," said Wyatt when asked if his
confidence was shaken after his 1 for 10 start. "The coaches on the
sideline told me to keep shooting. That the last shot was over. They
kept trusting me. [Ramone Moore] gave me the ball. He trusted me at the end of
the game and...I just shot it."
"I wasn't surprised that he made it," Dunphy said of the shot. "I wasn't
surprised that he took it. And I wasn't surprised that Ramone had the
presence of mind to set him up like he did. Ramone had great confidence in
Khalif and he came through."
"The reality is, with [Wyatt, Fernandez and Moore]...somebody asked me a question as to why we gave the ball to Khalif at the end of the Buffalo game. You can almost take turns with all three of those guys. They all can make plays. They all can make shots. They all have the confidence in themselves to do good work. So, it doesn't make much difference who's going to take that shot at end."
And while their coach is right that they have all demonstrated their abilities to close at the end of a game, they have also produced their share of cold stretches. Much like Wednesday against Buffalo, all three of Temple's starting guards struggled to find their jump shots. Posting a combined 9 for 36 from the floor — their followup to 20 of 56 performance against the Bulls — all three found themselves on the bench for extended stretches in favor of sophomore Aaron Brown, junior T.J. DiLeo and freshman Will Cummings.
Thankfully, the bench would come up big for the Owls when it needed to, with Brown making three key baskets to keep Temple alive in the first half, Cummings twice regaining the lead for the Owls in the second, and DiLeo both throwing down a dunk and taking a charge to energize his team during the late stages of the game.
"I'll tell you, sometimes you're flying by the seat of your pants. You're hoping the matchups can be okay," Dunphy said of the extended minutes he received from his bench. "You want to give Will minutes. And you want to give T.J. minutes. And Aaron Brown — he's as hard of a worker as he have; so, he deserves minutes. You just hope you're picking the right guys and the right times, and somehow we figured it out tonight."
This is the second game in a row in which Temple has just barely managed to "figure it out" in time to avoid losses to opponents they were easily favored to beat. It is doubtful they will have the luxury of sorting out their troubles so late in the proceedings when they take on Duke next Wednesday night.
The announced attendance of 4,234 was the largest crowd at the Carpenter Center since Delaware hosted Hofstra in 2005...Friday night was Delaware's first home loss of the season...Temple freshman Anthony Lee finished tied a career-high 12 points and chipped in seven rebounds...Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson to Khalif Wyatt when the duo was asked about Temple's struggles on defense: "You're Mr. Talkative, right?"...Hollis-Jefferson would finish 13 points and 8 rebounds on 5-10 shooting.