Owls pull away from Villanova for 76-61 win

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Andy Edwards (@DLNAndyEdwards)
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Until last year, Temple had little in the way of recent success against Big Five rival Villanova.

The Owls certainly hadn’t enjoyed their trips to the Main Line, losing the last six meetings at the Pavilion. A year removed from a 78-67 victory on its home floor, Temple did something it hadn’t done in more than two decades in the Wildcats’ house.

Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono brings the ball up the court, guarded by Temple’s T.J. DiLeo, during Wednesday’s game. (Photo credit: Andy Edwards)

Scootie Randall scored a game-high 21 points and Temple (6-0, 1-0 Big 5) held Villanova without a field goal for the first 10 minutes and 19 seconds of the second half, pulling away with a decisive spurt to earn a 76-61 victory in prime time Wednesday night, the Owls’ first win at the Pavilion since 1990.

Anthony Lee tied a career-high with 16 points, Khalif Wyatt added 13 after a slow start, and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson had eight points and a career-high seven assists for Temple, which notched the school’s first 6-0 start since 1987-88 thanks to an 18-2 run after intermission that put away a sloppy Wildcats squad with nearly as many turnovers (a season-high 20) as field goals (21).

“This was a big win,” Lee said. “(Dunphy) has been telling us during the week that we hadn’t had a win here since 1990. We wanted to turn the tables around and not come in here intimidated.”

James Bell paced Villanova with 15 points and Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault chipped in a season-high 10 for Villanova (4-4, 0-2 Big 5). Other than that, the Wildcats had little to smile about after intermission. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono finished with nine points, none of them in a disastrous second half that saw Villanova shoot 7-for-20 (35%) from the field and commit 12 turnovers.

“Turnovers hurt us as usual,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They were scoring, getting set in the defense, and we were struggling getting scoring against their defense. That was the game right there, obviously.

“We came out and started the second half turnover, turnover…You can’t do that against a good team.”

Wyatt, who missed eight of his nine attempts in the first half, found his stroke once the second half began, knocking down a jumper and a corner three as Temple, which will join Villanova in the Big East next season, came out firing after the break. The Owls, who shot 56 percent from the field (15-for-27) after halftime, scored the first nine points and took a 41-36 lead with 16 minutes to play on a jumper by Hollis-Jefferson.

Villanova, meanwhile, came up empty on its first 11 possessions, only getting on the board when Darrun Hilliard hit two of three at the charity stripe to cut the Owls’ lead to three at the first media timeout. After that, it was all Temple.

Randall connected on a pair of long three-pointers to stretch the lead to nine, and it ballooned to double-digits for the first time when Hollis-Jefferson canned another jumper at the 14-minute mark. By the time JayVaughn Pinkston split a pair of free-throws to stop the bleeding, the Owls had scored 18 of the first 20 points in the second half to craft a 50-39 lead and pull away from the erratic Wildcats.

Villanova didn’t have a field goal in the second half until Chennault hit a three with 9:41 to play, cutting Temple’s lead to 50-42. The transfer made another to make it a 52-45 game, but the Wildcats would get no closer as the Owls turned a tight battle into a comfortable victory on the strength of their veteran leadership.

“I give a lot of credit to these guys who are veteran guys,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “They understand the task at hand, and they understand how big a game this is for us. They stepped up and did really good things in the second half.”

The Wildcats’ second-half performance reached a nadir when Lee missed the second of two free throws, only to wind up with a three-point possession when Randall grabbed the offensive rebound and the ball found its way back to Lee, who finished inside to give Temple a 62-49 lead with six minutes to play.

Lee, who had the letters “TU” and his number (3) shaved in the side of his head the night before, came up big all night for the Owls, and did so under pressure. Had Lee struggled, he certainly expected the fashion statement to be the subject of Dunphy’s ire.

“It’s representing Temple University pride, Lee said. “It’s kind of funny, because I thought Coach Dunphy would say something about it in shoot-around, but he just left me alone. I feel like if I would have played bad, then he would have said something.”

The Pavilion crowd may have been late to arrive, but the home team was locked and loaded from the opening tip. The Wildcats made their first four shots, taking an 11-5 lead three minutes in when Arcidiacono canned a pair of free-throws to cap a 9-2 run.

The Owls rattled off the next nine points, Randall spearheading the charge with a pair of threes and Lee closing it with an easy lay-in off a feed from Hollis-Jefferson as Temple took a 14-11 edge. The lead changed hands eight times in the first 13 minutes, the Owls regaining it at the nine-minute mark when Boston University transfer Jake O’Brien drilled a long ball from the top of the key and Villanova taking it right back as Arcidiacono knocked down his only three-pointer of the night.

Temple’s Scootie Randall (Photo credit: Andy Edwards)

Maurice Sutton gave the Wildcats a big lift as the first-half battle of attrition wore on, grabbing three rebounds, playing volleyball with a Lee jump-hook, and driving baseline for a thunderous slam to push Villanova’s lead to 28-23 with just over four minutes remaining in the half. The dunk, which earned the senior center chants of “Mau-rice Su-tton” from the Villanova faithful, highlighted a 12-3 run that stretched the Wildcats’ lead to 32-26 at the two-minute mark of the first half. That was as good as it got for the Wildcats.

“They have a great defense, but I think our turnovers led to their points,” said Bell, who was 5-of-8 from the field. “If we had done a better job with our decision-making, it wouldn’t have led to points off turnovers. I think we just gave them the win.”

The Owls struggled to hit from the outside in the early going. Temple was 5-of-17 from behind the three-point line in the first half- and 11-of-34 overall (32.4%)- but went into the locker room down only four, 36-32, thanks to 10 points from Randall. Wyatt was 1-for-9 from the field, missing five of six three-point attempts and forcing a number of shots in a difficult start for the Atlantic 10’s leading returning scorer.

“We didn’t do a very good job on offense in the first half,” Dunphy said. “We didn’t do a very good job on defense, either…Our shot selection led to some easy baskets for them, and it just didn’t look like we were very together in that first half, but I give these guys a lot of credit. They came out here in the second half and did a great job on defense, and we moved the ball well…I’m hoping that this is a sign that we can play better as we move forward.”

While the Wildcats hadn’t experienced a loss to Temple in their own building since 1990, another thing they haven’t experienced much of is playing together. As Wright attempts to extract the best from a team with a freshman point guard, a few new faces, and some familiar ones in unfamiliar roles, the 11th-year head coach knows there will be growing pains. They were on full display Wednesday.

“Just inexperience in playing together,” Wright said. “Tony is learning what we’re doing, Arch is learning what we’re doing, (senior forward Mouphtao Yarou) is learning to play on the perimeter…I think we can get that cleaned up a little bit, and that will make a big difference. In all of our losses, that’s been the key.”

The Wildcats will look to bounce back with the second of three consecutive Big Five contests, this one a Saturday night game against Penn at the Palestra. The Owls, meanwhile, put their perfect start to the test against undefeated and second-ranked Duke Saturday afternoon at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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