Somewhere in North Philly, John Chaney was smiling on Friday night.
The Temple basketball team opened the season with an effort that only the Hall of Fame coach could love – all defense, no offense – and hung on for a 40-37 victory over American at The Liacouras Center.
Coming off a 9-22 season in which defense was sometimes an afterthought, the Owls had to make Coach Fran Dunphy smile, too – when he wasn’t cringing from all the missed shots and turnovers that his team committed.
The visiting Eagles, who have four starters back after winning the Patriot League last season, employed a sagging zone defense (another thing Chaney would have loved), which vexed the Owls for the full 40 minutes.
But Temple’s man-to-man was an even tougher chore for the Eagles, whose Princeton-style offense went scoreless for the last eight minutes of the first half – and managed just 11 points at the break.
The Owls appeared to have the game in hand when Jimmy McDonnell hit a three-pointer to make it 39-28 with 3:24 remaining.
Then, suddenly, last year’s squad made a reappearance.
The Owls committed a pair of turnovers, and surrendered a pair of backdoor layups. Josh Brown missed a three-pointer, then Will Cummings missed, and American got a three-pointer and a fastbreak layup to pull within 39-37 with 14 seconds to go.
Given the chance to seal the victory at the free throw line, Cummings made one of two – giving the Eagles a chance to tie the game.
But, just in time, the new Temple defense came back – forcing a long, contested three-pointer from American point guard Pee Wee Gardener that bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
The final numbers were similar to those from the Chaney era, if not the days of the peach basket.
Temple shot 11 of 48 from the field. Cummings was 1 for 13 and finished with seven points, though he also contributed six assists and six rebounds and played the entire game.
Quenton DeCosey was in foul trouble all night, which limited him to 16 minutes. He shot 1 for 7 from the field for two points.
Temple’s leading scorers were Daniel Dingle (11 points) and Mark Williams (11 points, 9 rebounds). Williams actually hit a pair of three-pointers as the Owls opened the game with a 10-0 spurt in the first four minutes.
The Eagles shot 12 for 39 from the field and 3 for 23 from three-point range. And when they missed, that was it. American managed just three offensive rebounds (and zero second-chance points) in the contest.
For the Owls, the game was also notable for who didn’t play. Transfer forward Jaylen Bond’s debut was delayed for at least three days due to an ankle sprain he suffered in practice last week. So Bond joined fellow transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman on the Temple bench. The latter two will be eligible to play on December 18 at Delaware. The Owls are hoping to have Bond back on Monday night against Louisiana Tech.
Hence, the only newcomer in Friday’s Temple lineup was freshman Obi Enechionyia, who came off the bench to play six minutes in the first half. He contributed two points and two rebounds. Dunphy said afterward that he did not put Enechionyia back on the floor in the second half because of the difficulty facing American’s plodding style.
American’s coach might have said the same thing about facing Temple’s defense.
And somewhere, you can be sure, Chaney was smiling.
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