Temple Starts Strong in Puerto Rico with 69-55 Win over Western Michigan

Temple Starts Strong in Puerto Rico with 69-55 Win over Western Michigan

Michael Eric registered a double-double and pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds to get Temple off to a fast start in San Juan. The Owls handled the Western Michigan Broncos by a final score of 69-55 in the first round of the 5-Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Eric looked like a completely different player as compared to his performance against the Quakers on Monday night. Rather than showing rust and looking out of place, Eric returned to form as the "Nigerian Nightmare." Appearing smoother with the ball and placing himself in much better position on defense, the fifth-year senior carried the Owls through a first half in which they did not shoot well at all from range.

Coach Fran Dunphy discussed Eric's defensive positioning at length in his post game press conference on Monday night. Characterizing his development as a continuing work in progress, the coach specifically mentioned his needed improvement in "timing his blast" to step out and pick up opponents on the perimeter. Showing signs that he's adapting to life without Lavoy Allen, Eric evidenced sound defense both above and below the arc. During a Western Michigan possession early in the second half, Mike popped out to cover a guard at the top of the key, but stopped in time so as not to overrun the play. He followed his man to the basket, altered the shot and then swatted away a potential put back on the ensuing rebound. Though it was only one possession, he showed clear signs that he is becoming the player the Owls will need him to be for 30+ minutes per game this season.

At the other end of the floor, the return of Khalif Wyatt from a one-game suspension also played a big role in improving the Owls' spacing and cohesion on offense. After hearing that his suspension was as a result of "the most minor of infractions," Doug Gottlieb explained on the broadcast that Khalif had played in an unregistered summer league during the off-season. The news clarifies coach Dunphy's comments from after the Penn game that Khalif's infraction was an issue that team's across the country all face in some regard. According to Gottlieb, Wyatt understood what he did, alerted Dunphy, and, together, they took the unfortunate, but necessary step of suspending the junior guard for the season opener. You can file this as #12,456,894,211 on the list of "What's Wrong with the NCAA in the Modern Day."

Anyway, on the floor, the Owls struggled from the field in the first half, shooting just over 31%. Though they would finish just 22-66 total, Wyatt, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez would all stretch the Temple lead to as much as 20 in the second half with a barrage of made 3's. By the end, all five starters—Fernandez, Moore, Wyatt, Eric and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson—would finish in double figures.

Shots aren't always going to fall, sometimes that's out of the players' control. What is in their control, as Dunphy will surely remind them, is cutting down on their 14 turnovers against the Broncos.

The Owls will attempt to follow up Thursday's win when they face the Purdue Boilermakers at 1 p.m. of ESPN U.

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 Darryll 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 on 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 – 9 ½ 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 5 ½ 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.”

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

“I got to briefly shake his hand,” Pivetta said Sunday morning. “He knew I was like a stalker. He said, ‘Oh, right, you’re the guy from British Columbia.’ “

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.