Andy Edwards (@DLNAndyEdwards)
Before taking the court for the regular-season opener at Kent State, Temple men’s basketball head coach Fran Dunphy was set to introduce several new faces to the college ranks. The Owls got solid contributions from some of the newcomers, but it was a familiar face that put them over the top in a Tuesday matinee, albeit one they hadn’t seen for a while. In the end, Scootie Randall proved even a fifth-year senior can have a coming out party.
In his first game back since missing the entire 2011-12 season with a medical redshirt after offseason knee surgery, Randall poured in a career-high 31 points, knocking down five three-pointers and connecting on 10 of his 19 shots to lead Temple to an 80-66 victory over the Golden Flashes in front of a sparse crowd at the Memorial A&C Center. Anthony Lee added a career-high 16 points and eight rebounds and Khalif Wyatt had nine points and six assists for the Owls (1-0), who won their fifth consecutive opener, but in a game televised by ESPN as part of the 24-hour tip-off marathon, it was Randall who stole the show.
“This is what we prepared for all year,” Randall told the media after the game. “I give credit to my teammates for finding me and having confidence in me — that’s just the biggest thing for me.
“It’s my last year so I have to lead those guys. Once the game tipped off I think it was just time to go and we all came together and we said ‘as long as we go out here and have fun.’ That’s the big key for me — going out there and having fun in my last year.”
Kris Brewer scored a team-high 19 for the Golden Flashes (1-1), including a high-flying, one-handed slam on a fast break that tied the game at 46 four minutes into the second half, bringing Kent State all the way back from a 15-point first-half deficit. As he was throughout the afternoon contest, Randall was there to quell the uprising.
The Philadelphia native and product of Communications Tech scored the next six points on a pair of three-pointers to put Temple ahead for good, then canned two free throws and converted a three-point play as part of a 20-5 run that restored the Owls to a double-digit advantage. By the time T.J. DiLeo put back his own missed free throw, the Owls were back up by 15 with eight minutes to play and well on their way to an impressive non-conference road win over a Golden Flashes squad that knocked off preseason CAA favorite Drexel in their season opener.
“I’m not real surprised that Scootie was as ready to go as he was,” Dunphy said. “I think he’s been waiting for this for a long time. He hasn’t played for almost a year and a half. Again, I thought he was great. We talked a little bit about his turnover production –which, let me pick on him for one thing he can be better at — but I thought he was tough, he was tough-minded. He led us in a lot of different ways and I’m very proud of him for his performance today.”
With senior guard Wyatt- the Atlantic 10’s leading returning scorer- struggling to find his range after tweaking his right hamstring in the first half, Randall and Lee shouldered the offensive load, with some help from the Owls’ complementary pieces. Lee, who was 6-of-8 from the field, scored the first six points of the second half for Temple, helping the Owls keep the Golden Flashes at arm’s length. DiLeo (nine points) made three of his four shots, dished out three assists, and turned it over just once at the point, garnering 23 minutes after a shaky start by Will Cummings, who finished with three assists and three turnovers. The Owls’ two transfers also made key contributions, former West Virginia guard Dalton Pepper providing four points and four rebounds and Boston University transplant Jake O’Brien adding six points, including a three-pointer that put Temple up 61-51 midway through the second half.
Randall didn’t take long to announce his return to the big stage. His first points since the 2010-11 season, a jumper from the right baseline, gave the Owls the lead at 5-4. Randall scored on each of the next two possessions, finishing with a dunk on a feed from Cummings in transition and drilling a long three to spark a 9-0 run that put Temple ahead, 12-4. He knocked down triples on back-to-back possessions gave the Owls a 12-point lead midway through the first half, and after DiLeo splashed one of his own, Temple was doubling up the Golden Flashes at 30-15 with just under eight minutes to play in the opening stanza.
While Kent State struggled to manufacture open shots against the Owls’ swarming man-to-man defense, missing 12 of their first 15 attempts from the field, Temple’s ball movement and transition ability continually led to high-quality looks. The Owls connected on 11 of their first 17 shots, and five of their first nine from three-point range. Four days after holding Drexel to 37-percent shooting in an overtime victory, the Golden Flashes had few answers for a Temple squad with a stacked deck of offensive weapons.
The Owls shot 53% (27-of-51) from the field on the afternoon and held Kent State to just 37-percent marksmanship (25-of-67). Temple was out-rebounded, 44-30, by the Golden Flashes, who got 17 points and seven rebounds from Chris Evans, but forced 21 turnovers and racked up six blocks, half of them by Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, to keep Kent State at bay.
Temple’s freshman trio of Devontae Watson, Quenton DeCosey, and Daniel Dingle played sparingly. Dingle didn’t see the court at all, and Dunphy waited until the final minute to insert Watson and DeCosey, who scored his first collegiate points on a breakaway layup that rounded out the scoring with six seconds remaining.