Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Shooting problems continue to plague Temple, who needed their best defensive performance of the season in an ugly 63-46 win over Alcorn State on Monday night.
After a 27-of-71 (38.0 percent) performance from the floor in a win against Towson last Wednesday, Temple shot 20-of-50 (40.0 percent) against Alcorn State but just 25.0 percent (5-of-20) from three.
“The way the game was played, I think they wanted to elongate the possessions,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “They were not coming down and shooting very quickly, they were trying to shorten the game in that regard. It was certainly going to come down to us making stops, which it always does. We were not great on offense.”
The Owls were without the services of usual starting center Anthony Lee, who was sidelined with an illness. Fifth-year senior Jake O’Brien (10 points, four rebounds) got the nod in Lee’s stead, his first start since transferring from Boston University in the offseason.
Lee’s absence also paved the way for 6-10 freshman Devontae Watson to have his best game of the season. Watson’s five-minute run in the first half produced four points, four rebounds and three blocks; while he wouldn’t re-enter the game until there were 42 seconds left, that was enough to set career highs in all the above categories.
“He did some really good things, he really did some terrific things,” Dunphy said about Watson, one of just two players to graduate high school with 1000 points, rebounds and blocks. “I think he’s going to be a terrific basketball player, he’s going to be hard to score against.
“It becomes a possession-by-possession game…some things he did really well and other things, he got himself caught out of position a couple times, which is going to happen, but the more he plays the less times he’s going to be caught out of position.”
Temple finally started to pull away after the 15-minute mark by getting Alcorn State into foul trouble. The Braves picked up their seventh foul after intermission with 12:40 remaining in the game, putting the Owls into the bonus; at the time, Temple had only committed one team foul in the half and wouldn’t even get to their fifth. That helped Temple make 18 free-throws (on 26 attempts) to just eight (on 12 attempts) by Alcorn State.
Khalif Wyatt became the 49th player in Temple history to score 1000 points when he made a free-throw with 8:08 to play; he would finish with a team-high 20 points for his second 20-point effort of the year.
“It’s been a long process, just want to thank all my teammates that I’ve had since I got here, and all my coaches,” Wyatt said. “The accomplishment means a lot to me, and I just want to thank everybody who helped me get there.”
Wyatt entered the game in a bit of a personal slump where he’s shot just 10-of-42 in Temple’s last three games; he made 5 of his 11 shots against Alcorn State.
“I haven’t been shooting the ball that well,” he admitted, “but all you can really do to get out of a shooting slump is to keep shooting. I didn’t make a lot of shots today but I took good shots, got my teammates involved, we won…that’s all that matters.”
He could be the only player on the roster to break that barrier this season as the next-highest scorer, Rahlir-Hollis-Jefferson, now has 709 and with his current average of 9.9 ppg would fall about 30 points short of 1000 (assuming a 35-game season). Hollis-Jefferson and Scootie Randall each had 11 points against Alcorn State to join O’Brien and Wyatt as the Owls in double figures.
Temple, who’s been out-rebounded this season by an average of one rebound per game, had issues against an athletic Alcorn State lineup that didn’t have a starter under 6-foot-4. Alcorn State out-rebounded Temple 24-18 in the first half and held the home team to just 34.6 percent (9-of-26) from the floor in the same span; had they not shot 10-of-31 (32.3 percent), the Braves would have been leading the Owls instead of trailing 28-26 at halftime.
By the end of the game, Temple had evened the rebounding battle at 35 apiece while holding Alcorn State to just 34.0 percent (17-of-50) shooting for the game.
The game was Temple’s first of four on the schedule that are part of the Gotham Classic; home games against Canisius (Dec. 19) and Detroit (Dec. 28) are also part of the event, while the headliner happens on Saturday when the Owls take on the Orange of Syracuse University at Madison Square Garden.