Anthony Bellino (Bellino_Anthony)
Temple’s off to its best start in a quarter-century, but it may be time for a heat check Saturday afternoon when the Owls (6-0) play arguably the hottest team in the nation in second-ranked Duke.
Duke (8-0) has already defeated three opponents who were ranked in the top 5 in the nation at the time of the game, (Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio St.). Duke will certainly come into the game with revenge on its mind, as Temple upset the Blue Devils 78-73 last season at the Wells Fargo Center. Owls coach Fran Dunphy knows Duke’s prestige and what it means to take on a team in the top 10; his teams have defeated a top-10 opponent each of the last four years.
“I think any time you have the opportunity to play Duke University in basketball it’s a tremendous challenge for your team but I think a great opportunity to play arguably the finest basketball program in the country,” Dunphy told reporters before practice Thursday. “(Duke) is really a good basketball team; Mike (Krzyzewski) has them playing very well and you get a kid like (Mason) Plumlee who has just made these phenomenal strides.”
Plumlee, a 6-foot-10 forward, is having a monster year and could cause problems for Temple’s thin interior. He comes into the game averaging 19.6 points and 11.0 rebounds, each team highs. Last year in the Blue Devils’ loss to the Owls, Plumlee had 16 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
Dealing with Plumlee will be squarely on the shoulders of sophomore center Anthony Lee. Lee is averaging 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, but hasn’t played against the likes of Plumlee all year, and the Owls have been vulnerable inside. If Lee finds himself in early foul trouble, Temple doesn’t have a player capable of trying to bang with the 6-10 Plumlee in the post.
“He’s very strong inside; I think his teammates set him up well with alley-oop passes,” Lee said of Plumlee. “He’s going to be a tough matchup to handle but from our coaching staff’s scheme I think we’re going to be able to handle it.”
Duke does not rely on Plumlee to carry the scoring load as much as some teams do with their leading scorer; the Blue Devils come in with five different players averaging double-figure points per game. Along with Plumlee, seniors Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, sophomore Quinn Cook and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon all come in averaging double-digits scoring per game.
“I wish (Plumlee) were the only one we had to worry about they just have very good players from top to bottom,” Dunphy said. “If (Plumlee) were the only one you had to worry about you could pack it in but they have terrific shooting and they’ve got really good basketball players.”
If Temple wants to play Duke tough they’ll need a more efficient performance Saturday than they got from senior guard Khalif Wyatt against Villanova. Against the Wildcats Wyatt scored 13 points, but it was on 4-of-16 shooting from the field. One thing Wyatt has improved on this season is his ball control and finding teammates; against Villanova the senior from Norristown, Pa., had four assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes of action.
“Shot just wasn’t going in,” Wyatt said of his poor shooting performance against Villanova. “I think early I got some good shots that just didn’t go in and as the game went on I started getting some shots and they still weren’t going in.”
Wyatt’s backcourt running-mate, senior Scootie Randall, has been arguably Temple’s most valuable player so far. The fifth-year senior is averaging team highs in both points (16.7) and rebounds (7.2) per game. Against Villanova, with Wyatt struggling from the field, Randall took over, scoring 21 points which included a 5-of-9 shooting performance from behind the three-point arc.
“I think we have the pieces to the puzzle. I think it’s how we execute, the second half against Villanova that’s how we got to be from the start of the game to the end of the game,” Randall told reporters before practice. “I think we got a great chance of coming out here and competing against a great team like Duke.”
When both teams take the floor Saturday at 3:15 they will each have something to prove. Duke will want to overcome last season’s defeat to Temple and prove they are indeed one of the best teams in the country. Temple wants to prove that its 6-0 start is for real although the Owls haven’t played a ranked team. They want to show the country on a game televised by ESPN that they belong in the top 25 polls.
Noteworthy News: It will be interesting to see what role freshman Quenton DeCosey plays against the Blue Devils. DeCosey has shown promise, scoring eight and six points against Wagner and Buffalo, respectively, playing 10 minutes in each of those games. Against Villanova though, the 6-foot-5 freshman played just four minutes. He has a scorer’s mentality that could prove to be important if Wyatt or Randall is having an off day shooting the ball.
Since playing just 11 minutes against Delaware, sophomore guard Will Cummings has played at least 20 minutes in the last three games. Against Villanova, Cummings played 20 minutes and didn’t commit a turnover; ball security will be at a premium against Duke.
One Temple player who doesn’t get as much press as he deserves is senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. Hollis-Jefferson does a little bit of everything for Temple, averaging 8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. One area he must improve is protecting the ball; he’s averaging 2.6 turnovers per game, and he had four against Villanova despite a career-high seven assists in that contest.
Lee’s New Hair: Lee took the floor against Villanova with “TU3” shaved in the side of his head. He talked to reporters about the decision behind the hair cut.
“I just decided to get the cut the night before the Villanova game, it’s a rivalry game so I just wanted to represent my school,” Lee said of his haircut. “It was funny because my coach yesterday didn’t say anything about it in shoot around, I kind of took the impression that he was okay with it.”