BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Through the first three games of the 2014-15 campaign, a much-improved defense was the storyline for the Temple men’s basketball team.
And the results – two wins and a loss to fourth-ranked Duke – made it easy to shrug off the Owls’ offensive struggles. After all, offense has rarely been a major problem during Coach Fran Dunphy’s tenure.
But the storyline flipped Saturday night, as another solid defensive effort was wasted – thanks to an inept offensive performance – in a 57-50 loss to UNLV in the consolation game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Barclays Center.
The Owls converted just 5 of 33 field goal attempts in the second half – shooting 24.1 percent for the game – in an ugly loss to the Runnin’ Rebels.
Coming off an 89-60 loss to Stanford on Friday night, UNLV had also struggled in its season-opening wins over Morehead State and Sam Houston State – not a surprise since its rotation features five freshmen, a sophomore, and two seniors.
But Coach Dave Rice’s team also features some great athletes, and one of them in particular – 6-11 sophomore Christian Wood – dominated the second half against the Owls.
Wood scored 16 of his team-high 18 points after the break, and also contributed 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Temple’s only answer was senior point guard Will Cummings, who totaled 21 points and seven rebounds, but only one assist – mostly because his teammates missed most of their shots.
The frontcourt was stunningly bad, with Mark Williams (1 for 10), Daniel Dingle (1 for 7), Obi Enechionyia (0 for 4) and Devontae Watson (0 for 3) combining to hit just 2 of 24 field goal attempts.
Wood and frontcourt mate Goodluck Okonoboh (3 blocks) patrolled the paint effectively for the Rebels, and the Owls were simply way off-target from the perimeter.
Afterward, Dunphy lamented his team’s poor choice in attempting to challenge UNLV’s shot blockers. He also pointed to a missed opportunity to seize control of the game in the first half.
Despite missing five of its first six shots, Temple jumped to a 9-2 lead in the contest. The Rebels missed six of their first seven shots.
Rice then slowed the pace with a zone defense, which was difficult for the Owls to navigate thanks to the long arms of Wood and Okonobah.
UNLV had similar trouble against Temple’s man-to-man, but stayed within range by hitting 4 of 7 three-point attempts in the first half.
Still, the Owls never lost the lead.
A key sequence occurred in the final minute, as Williams drove the baseline but missed a layup, and Rebel point guard Cody Doolin then dribbled down the clock and slipped past Cummings and under Watson for a layup that made it 27-24 at halftime.
UNLV carried that momentum into the second half, scoring seven straight points as the Owls missed seven straight shots.
Temple eventually made a few shots, and several defensive stops. But every run was answered by Wood, and every loose ball seemed to go to the Rebels.
Trailing 51-43 with less than four minutes to go, the Owls made one last run, cutting the deficit to 51-48 after a three-point play by Cummings.
UNLV missed on the other end, and the Owls pushed the ball to Quenton DeCosey, who missed a game-tying three-point attempt with 1:35 remaining.
The Rebels missed again, and the Owls pushed the ball again, but Cummings missed a running layup. The rebound was deflected towards midcourt, where Dingle attempted to pull it in, only to have Patrick McCaw poke it away from behind and race ahead for a back-breaking basket.
So instead of scoring a win against a young UNLV team that could eventually be pretty good, the Owls lost a game to a team that had not looked good in its first three games.
The Rebels shot 38.9 percent from the field and committed 12 turnovers. Temple committed just seven turnovers. But nothing could overcome those awful shooting numbers.
DeCosey scored 11 points, while Jaylen Bond contributed five points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
The Owls will return home to face Penn on Tuesday night.
Another Cold Night
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