Stopping McCrea key for Temple vs. Buffalo

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Hagins (left) needs some help in the frontcourt. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Anthony Bellino (@Bellino_Anthony)

When Temple travels to Buffalo tomorrow one thing will be on their minds–containing Javon McCrea. McCrea, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, makes the Bulls go, and Wednesday night in Buffalo all eyes will be on him if the Bulls (2-5) want to upset the undefeated Owls (3-0).

McCrea does a little bit of everything for the Bulls, a Mid-American Conference team that knows a little bit about giving Temple a run for their money. Last season, behind McCrea’s 28 points and seven rebounds, Buffalo took Temple to overtime before ultimately losing 87-85 at the Liacouras Center.

This year through seven games McCrea leads or is second on the team in just about every major statistical category, averaging 17.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 2.7 assists per game. Temple coach Fran Dunphy said he knows how good McCrea is, because he remembers what he did to the Owls last season.

“I’ve seen him on film but I’ve also had the tough assignment of watching him against us,” Dunphy told CoBL before practice on Monday. “He’s really a very active guy, he will give us all we can handle, we didn’t do a very good job against (Jamelle) Hagins so we better tighten up against McCrea.”

Hagins, a senior forward on Delaware, had a career game against Temple with 29 points and 12 boards in an Owls win on Sunday. While McCrea may be two inches shorter than Hagins, he’s a better passer and averages more blocks per game.

The Owls defense, which has been lackluster at times this season, someone needs to contain McCrea, because behind him the Bulls do not have a player averaging double-figures. Dunphy said that defense is a big area of concern so far, and he wants to see improvement moving forward. He also said that he wants to see his team taking better shots.

“We need to work on our defense, our defense was not very good, I didn’t think our attention to detail was very good,” Dunphy said. “Our shot selection is always a big one, we had one play yesterday where we threw up a poor shot and (Devon) Saddler drove it right down the floor and kicked it to one of his teammates for an open three, it’s those kind of things we have to eliminate.”

One of the bright spots for Temple heading into Buffalo Wednesday night is the fact that they got good bench production from senior forward Jake O’Brien and junior guard Dalton Pepper against Delaware. O’Brien had 13 points on 4-of-7 from the field and Pepper added six points and three rebounds. Pepper, a West Virginia transfer, seems to finally be settling into the rotation after sitting on the bench for his transfer season.

“We have a tough task in Buffalo on Wednesday, they’re a pretty good team, they compete and play hard,” Pepper told CoBL. “I just think I have to go out there and play my hardest and do whatever it takes to help the team win the game.”

Temple is looking to head into December undefeated for the first time under Dunphy, and a win against Buffalo would ensure that as their next game isn’t until the calendar flips to December. Every other team in the city has at least one loss.

“There’s always room for improvement especially early in the season, but we’re happy that we’re 3-0, not many teams can say the same,” Pepper said. “We’re just going to go out and take it one game at a time and see what happens in Buffalo.”

The Matchups
Will Cummings vs. Corey Raley-Ross
Cummings and Raley-Ross are each in their first year starting for their teams. Each are being eased into the position as Cummings is averaging 16.3 minutes and Raley-Ross is averaging 18.6 minutes per game. Each of the two players are looking to find their role in their teams rotations whether it be handling the ball or working without it.

Khalif Wyatt vs. Jarod Oldham
Wyatt’s passing has been the key so far for the Owls; through three games the 6-4 senior is averaging 6.3 assists per game, almost doubling his total of 3.3 assists per game last season. If Wyatt keeps getting his teammates open looks it makes Temple so much more dangerous in their half-court offense. Oldham comes in averaging 9.3 points and 6 rebounds per game are good for second on the Bulls roster. Oldham is the only player on Buffalo’s roster who is averaging more than 30 minutes per game.

Scootie Randall vs. Auraum Nuiriankh
In a matchup of 6-foot-6 swingmen, Randall has a distinct advantage in the statistical categories. Randall is averaging 21.7 points per game while Nuiriankh is averaging 4.6 points per game. Randall also has 25 pounds on Nuiriankh so it wouldn’t be surprising if Temple tried to isolate Randle in the post and let him use that to his advantage. Randall is also averaging eight rebounds per game through three games.

Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson vs. Will Regan
Regan is a University of Virginia transfer who is in his first season playing for Buffalo, through seven games the sophomore is averaging 9.1 points and 4 rebounds per contest. The most interesting stat about Regan, who stands 6-foot-8, is that he is 7-of-11 (.636) from 3-point range on the year, so he’s not afraid to step outside. Hollis-Jefferson has been very versatile this year for the Owls averaging 10.3 points, 2.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 4.7 rebounds per game. His mid-range game is his best asset; he is shooting 71 percent from the field this year (12-of-17) which is good for second on the team.

Anthony Lee vs. Javon McCrea
McCrea is Buffalo’s best player, he’s the only player on the bulls roster averaging double-digit points per game (17.0) and he gets to the free-throw line around six times per game. Against Delaware Lee had four fouls and only played 19 minutes. Lee will have to stay out of foul trouble against McCrea down low. Even with the setback against Delaware Lee is still averaging 12.7 points and a team high 9.3 rebounds per game.

Notable reserves: Against Delaware, the Owls got a big boost from their bench, O’Brien scored 13 points and Pepper added six. Senior guard T.J. DiLeo played 29 minutes off the bench and only committed one turnover to go with three assists. DiLeo, a defensive specialist, also added four steals against the Blue Hens and hit the only shot he took, a 3-pointer.

Buffalo’s bench is anchored by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Xavier Ford, who comes into the game averaging 6.2 points per game. In 77 total minutes of play for the Bulls, Ford has 16 offensive rebounds, which could prove to be a factor when Lee goes to the bench for Temple. Senior guard Tony Watson II is a 3-point specialist off the bench for Buffalo; he’s only played in four of the teams’ seven games this season (sat out the first three) but is averaging 8.8 points per game and is shooting 57.1 percent from behind the arc.

Noteworthy News: The Temple-Buffalo game will be broadcast on Comcast Sports Network at 7:30 pm.

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