Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Khalif Wyatt led a balanced Temple scoring attack with 18 points as the Owls held off a valiant effort from Delaware forward Jamelle Hagins, winning 80-75 to stay undefeated so far this year.
Wyatt was one of four players in double figures for Temple (3-0), joined by Scootie Randall (18 points), Jake O’Brien (13 points) and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (10 points).
“I actually enjoy preparing for the [Temple] game just because of the way that they do play,” Delaware coach Monte Ross said, “and they way that they play the game of basketball is always a joyful thing for me to watch.
“You just hate to have to play against it,” he added.
It took an almost unbelievable performance from the floor for the Blue Hens to stay close with the Owls. At one point, with under eight minutes to play in the second half, Delaware was 24-of-37 (64.9 percent) from the floor, though they cooled off a bit to finish 29-of-50 (58 percent).
“I’ll tell you what, I’m glad we did shoot it well or we’d have been in serious trouble,” Ross said. “We know we have the ability to shoot the ball that way; we don’t rely on shooting it that well because we try to rest our hat on the defensive side of the basketball.”
“We threw a zone at them a little bit to slow them down for a couple of possessions and that helped us,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said about the final few minutes. “Maybe we have to look at that a little bit more.”
Temple led by as many as 14 points in the second half after going up 41-34 at halftime, but a shorthanded Delaware (2-4) squad hung tough as the game wound down. Devon Sadder scored 17 of his 25 points after the break, including 15 during a nearly 10-minute stretch when the Blue Hens closed a 50-36 gap to a 62-61 game with 8:30 remaining. It was his teammate, however, who kept things close from that point on.
Hagins had a career-high 29 points, scoring almost at will against whoever Dunphy had matched up against him. The 2011-12 First Team All-CAA forward played a huge role in the Blue Hens’ hanging with the Owls down the stretch, scoring 11 straight for his team beginning with the 3-point play that had Delaware within a point and ending when Kyle Anderson hit a free throw with 40 seconds left and Temple up 76-70. Overall, the 6-foot-9 senior shot 11-of-16 from the floor, adding 12 rebounds.
“One of the things that we talked about is we had to get Jamelle the ball,” Ross said. “We weren’t doing a good job, and I wasn’t doing a good job, of making sure that he got the ball. One of the conscious efforts that we made was we had to get him the ball, and when he’s rolling the way that he was rolling today, it would be foolish to not get him the ball.”
Delaware’s biggest advantage of the game came just 71 seconds into the contest when they went up 4-0; once Hollis-Jefferson put Temple up 7-5 two minutes later, Delaware never held the lead again.
“I think going into today, we knew we were going to have a tough match-up,” Randall said. “I think those guys come out to play each and every game even though they’re just coming off a loss…both of those guys [Saddler and Hagins] can do pretty much anything you need them to do on the court.”
Saddler, who entered the game tops in the CAA and 21st in the country in scoring (21.6 ppg), had 23 points for his third consecutive game with at least that many points.
Last year, Temple needed Wyatt’s heroics to overcome a spunky Delaware squad in a close-fought game down in Newark. Wyatt scored the final five points of the game, a go-ahead 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two free throws with six ticks left on the clock to seal a 66-63 Owls win.
O’Brien hit double figures for the first time as an Owl. The 6-10 Boston University transfer, who had nine points combined in his first two games wearing cherry and white, played a season-high 19 minutes and shot 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
The Blue Hens were playing shorthanded in this one, missing a pair of starters in senior forward Josh Brinkley (ankle) and Jarvis Threatt (abdominal injury), who’s still recovering from an elbow to the stomach he took in their game against Pittsburgh on Friday.
The Owls were playing their first game in eight days but didn’t show much rust on their own offensive end, hitting 26-of-54 from the floor. Getting the ball in the bucket had been somewhat of a struggle in their last game, a win over Rice last Saturday, when they shot just 26-of-63 (41.2 percent), including a miserable 4-of-26 from beyond the arc.
“We need to get ourselves in a little bit of rhythm of playing and then we won’t have any more excuses,” Dunphy said, though his team’s schedule gets a little more rhythmic for the next few weeks. “We are playing Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday, I think, so I won’t be in here giving you any more excuses on what our defensive lapses were like today.”
Both teams hit the road for 7 p.m. games on Wednesday night; Delaware travels up to the Lehigh Valley to take on Lafayette while Temple heads even further north in a visit to Buffalo.