A season ago in the midst of a snowstorm, Temple was able to defeat then, eighth-ranked, undefeated, SMU in a season defining moment. The 89-80 upset victory over the Mustangs on January 24th, 2016 gave the Owls confidence and momentum for the rest of the season. They won nine out of their remaining eleven conference games, which resulted in an American Athletic Conference regular season championship -- Temple’s first ever.
This year however, things played out a little differently when SMU came to Philadelphia. The Mustangs were once again a top-25 team and the snow storm still showed up, but Temple’s offensive game did not. Overall for the contest, the Owls shot 30.9-percent from the floor, 26.7-percent from three and 61.5-percent from the foul line. Temple’s low-percentage offense made it difficult for them to catch up to SMU, who at one point in the game, led by as many as 16.
The Owls were so out of rhythm offensively against the Mustangs, that they went without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes. The field goal drought came in the first half, and began when Quinton Rose was able to get a fast break dunk off of a steal at the 10:44 mark. For the next nine minutes and twenty-five seconds, the Owls only scored one point on a free throw from Daniel Dingle. Temple’s next field goal came at the 1:19 mark when Rose tipped in his own miss. The Owls were able to keep things close though, and in large part, their competitiveness was credited to their effort on the defensive end.
In the first half, Temple held SMU to 32.1-percent shooting overall and an even worse 14.3-percent from behind-the-arc. Although the Owls made an effort to contest shots and were able to contain the Mustang’s offensively to a certain extent, SMU’s length, athleticism and ability to score in the paint and from the perimeter proved to be too difficult to actually stop. In particular, Temple failed to prevent SMU’s Semi Ojeleye, the redshirt junior transfer from Duke, from putting the ball in the basket.
By the end of the first half, Ojeleye already had 13 points on just three field goals, and by the end of the game, he more than doubled his first half scoring numbers by finishing with 30 points overall. His ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line was one of the prime factors in holding Temple off from coming back in the game. Ojeleye ended with 10 free-throws made out of 11 attempted, which not only displayed Ojeleye’s knack for drawing contact, but also exposed Temple’s over-aggressiveness on defense.
The effort on defense was there for the Owls, but the execution failed to match. Several times, Temple’s defenders would run into screeners, jump over the back of rebounders and jump on pump fakes by shooters. The lack of discipline on the defensive end led to the Owls falling into foul trouble. Every player who played for Temple picked up at least one personal foul and in total, Temple had racked up 20 personal fouls by the end of the game. The Temple fouls resulted in 25 total free throws attempted by SMU. In contrast, The Owls only got to the line 13 times, and made just eight of those attempts.
“We got to attack the basket,” Enechionyia said after the 66-50 loss to #25 SMU. “Sometimes we settle for jumpshots too much and it’s tough to win a game when you do that. I don’t think we draw enough fouls. The only way to do that is to attack the basket and that gets them in foul trouble and makes the game easier.”
As a team, Temple ranks 10th in the American out of 11 teams in both free throws made and free throws attempted. Contrastly, the Owls rank third in the American in three-pointers made and first in three-pointers attempted. This season, it seems as though Temple is literally playing by the motto, ‘live by the three, die by the three.’ When they make the perimeter shots, they win, and when they don’t make the perimeter shots, they struggle to find points elsewhere, such as in the game against SMU.
“We have shooters on this team, but when the shots don’t fall, it’s tough to win,” Enechionyia said. “We have the players that have the ability to get to the basket. I know for myself, I don’t do that enough. Sometimes I settle and I know I have the ability to get to the cup and draw fouls, so personally I know I have to do that better and [we have to] as a team as well.”
As Enechionyia emphasized, it is not that Temple lacks players who have the ability to get to the rim and draw contact, it is just that they do not make a concerted effort to do so. Daniel Dingle, Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose, Alani Moore, Obi Enechionyia, and even Mark Williams have the moves off of the dribble to penetrate and create contact, but more often than not, they all seem content to just hoist up shots from long distance whether they are contested or not. If the Owls continue to settle for perimeter shots instead of getting easier looks at the rim, the offensive inconsistency may make it hard for them to stay competitive for the rest of the season.
Having said that, the Owls played much better against the Memphis Tigers today at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, as they shot 46.4-percent from the field, 43.5-percent from three and defeated them 74-62.
Despite their performance against the Tigers, the game versus SMU is more representative of how they have played all year. The Owls need to build off their latest performance if they want to finish the season on a high-note.
Photo: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports