Hollis-Jefferson leads Owls past Tigers

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

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

Anthony Bellino (@Bellino_Anthony)

With senior guards Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall struggling on the offensive end Temple needed someone to be a go-to offensive threat. They found that threat in senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.

Hollis Jefferson led Temple (7-1) with a career-high 20 points in a 72-61 victory over a Towson (4-6) team that wouldn’t go away.

Hollis-Jefferson has been an all-around player for the Owls and tonight he had to take on the role of scorer. This was the first time since the Delaware game on Nov. 25th that the senior forward was in double figures scoring. The Chester, Pa. native also added 6 rebounds and 3 steals on the night.

“(Rahlir) was great, he was absolutely terrific, he made a lot of mid-range jump shots,” Dunphy said of Hollis-Jefferson’s performance. “I’ve been saying that for a while that if we’re going to be a good basketball team he needs to make mid-range jump shots, he certainly stepped up and made a lot of those tonight.”

Towson starting forward junior Jerrelle Benimon led all scorers with 30 points; the Georgetown transfer dominated the Owls in the paint. To go along with his 30 points, Benimon had 18 rebounds which was good for his sixth double-double of the season; he also played all 40 minutes of the game, something that is rarely done by a player of his size.

“Benimon’s a hard guy to guard, we lost him twice on screens accross the lane, we thought we had communication down perfect and one of our student athletes didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” Dunphy said. “I thought for the most part and this is going to sound crazy we had containment, but he is a tough guy to guard.”

Wyatt hasn’t shot the ball well since Temple’s Dec. 1st victory over Wagner; against Towson Wyatt scored 11 points but was just 3-for-11 from the field. Randall struggled mightily as well; the senior came into the game leading the Owls in scoring (15.1 ppg) and scored 13 points on just 4-of-13 from the field including 0-for-6 from behind the arc. He did, however lead the team with 12 rebounds.

“(Wyatt’s) in a little bit of a funk shooting the ball,” Dunphy said of Wyatt’s struggles. “The one time we had the ball and he’s going on a break away and really a magnanimous gesture to give  a layup to one of his teammates but that wasn’t the time.”

The Owls also got scoring help from sophomores Anthony Lee and Will Cummings. Lee, who along with Hollis-Jefferson had the undesirable task of guarding Benimon on the defensive end scored 10 points and pulled in 5 rebounds.

Cummings provided a spark both offensively and defensively for Fran Dunphy’s squad, the sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., had 8 points and 5 steals. At the end of the game it was a different set of guards on the floor than you might be seeing from Temple to close, Cummings was on the floor with senior T.J. DiLeo. Dunphy talked about closing with those two, who usually aren’t on the floor at the same time.

“I think they know the game a little bit although I think Will shot a little bit to quickly on the last possession or  so,” Dunphy said. “Those two guys can step out and guard people on the three-point line so when we had a little bit of a cushion that’s the one thing you don’t want to give up is the three.”

Temple’s defense was stiff all evening and it had to be, the Owls shot just 38.0 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from behind the three-point arc. The Owls forced the Tigers into 19 turnovers for the game and scored 25 points off of those turnovers. Temple was also hitting the offensive glass, they had 17 offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points. After giving up 12 three-pointers to Duke, Temple held Towson to just 1-of-14 (7.1 percent) from 3-point land.

“We talked about it certainly that we wanted to guard it better than we did,” Dunphy said of guarding the three-pointer. “You’re playing two different kinds of teams, I would’ve loved to do a better job on Benimon.”

If Temple wants to hang with the likes of Kansas and Syracuse their interior defense will have to improve. Benimon was able to score his 30 points on 14-of-22 from the floor. Temple will have two more contests to work on their flaws before their Dec. 22nd date with fourth-ranked Syracuse. The Owls next game will be at home Monday against Alcorn State at 7 pm.

“We’re thrilled to get the win, nothing pretty about this,” Dunphy said of the win. “We’ve kind of done that a number of times this year but we’ll take it.”

Side Note: Freshman Quenton DeCosey only saw six minutes of action after scoring a team-high 13 points against Duke this past Saturday. DeCosey sank a 3-pointer and it was the only basket he would have on the night. It will be interesting to follow the minutes he gets in each of the games moving forward.

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