Without a true experienced backcourt to start the 2016-17 basketball season, many expected Fran Dunphy's Temple Owls to struggle with playmaking, decision making and overall execution on both offense and defense. Temple's senior point guard, Josh Brown, is still sidelined as he recovers from a torn achilles tendon while Trey Lowe, the Owls standout freshman from last season, decided to redshirt due to injuries sustained in a car accident late last February.
As a result of the major injuries, Quinton Rose, Alani Moore II, and Shizz Alston have all been thrust into the main rotation for the Owls. Although the three young guards have shown their inexperience with questionable shots and blown defensive assignments every once in awhile, the talented trio put their capabilities on full display during the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn over Thanksgiving.
Alston, Rose, and Moore played significant minutes as Temple took on two ranked teams during the tournament. Thanks to the play of the young guards, the Owls were able to knockoff both of those teams and were crowned the 2016 NIT Season Tip-Off Champions.
In the semifinal of the NIT Season Tip-Off, Temple was able to overcome an 18-point deficit in the second half against the 25th-ranked Florida State Seminoles. With 13:30 left to play in the game, Quinton Rose turned over the ball on a bad inbounds pass which led to an easy layup for the Seminoles to put them up 60-42. Subsequently, Fran Dunphy burned a timeout.
But from that point on, Rose and Alston were determined to get their team back in the game.
“We just looked at each other. Me and [Rose] brought everybody together and said ‘Let's go. It’s time to pick it up. We're on the big stage, we’re not going out like this,’” Alston said after the game. “Down 18 points, we're going to fight back and win this game.”
Fight back is exactly what the Owls did and the tone was set by both Rose and Alston.
Rose hit a calm jumper right out of the timeout to make it a 16-point game, and after getting a stop on defense, Rose drained a 3-point bucket off an assist from Alston to go on a 5-0 run on his own and cut the FSU lead to 13 points in just 42 seconds. From that point on, the Seminoles just could not contain Rose or Alston.
Rose was able to take FSU's guards off the dribble and draw several fouls to stop the clock and take points off the board while Alston kept on nailing step back three after step back three. The two young guards went on to score the next 16 points for Temple, which included five straight made free throws from the freshman Rose and three straight 3-pointers from the sophomore Alston.
Alston only scored four points at halftime, but by the end of the game, he racked up a total of 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor, 4-of-8 from three and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Alston had huge stops on defense as well and was able to come away with 3 steals while also finding his teammates throughout the game, ending with 4 assists. Undoubtedly, this was the best showing of Alston’s short career at Temple so far after struggling to contribute consistently his freshman season.
“Everybody knows it's been a tough start for me, especially shooting the ball,” Alston said. “So when I saw those threes go in, I just wanted to cry. I haven't made that many threes in a while...It felt normal again.”
Rose filled up the stat sheet in the comeback win over Florida State as well, scoring a game and career high 26 points. Rose also added 4 assists and 6 rebounds to his line, showcasing how he can affect the game in more ways than one.
“They were being aggressive defensively, so we knew we had to match the aggressiveness on offense,” Rose said. “We had to play aggressive, attack baskets and make shots and that's what we did.”
Aggressive might be an understatement to describe Rose’s play during the game. Rose was able to get to the line 15 times and made 12 of those free throw shots. That aggressive play was one of the main reasons why Temple was able to come back from FSU’s double digit lead, and in the championship game the following day against #19 West Virginia, that same aggressiveness was matched. This time however, it was the smallest player on the court that showed his toughness and ability to get to the free throw line when needed.
Although West Virginia’s full court pressure has been known to force teams into submission by cutting off passing lanes, getting up in ball carriers’ faces, and forcing several turnovers, Temple was unphased by Bob Huggins’ signature defense for most of the game. A major reason why Temple was able to exploit ‘Press Virginia’ was thanks to 5-foot-10 freshman, Alani Moore II.
The young point guard may be small, but his athleticism and speed caused major problems for WVU's pressure. Each time Moore received the ball in the backcourt, he was able to out run double teams and find holes in the Mountaineer's high risk, high reward defense. When the Mountaineers failed to keep up with Moore off the dribble, they fouled the freshman, but he made them pay.
Moore was able to hit entirety of his eight free throws, all of them coming in the second half, keeping Temple in the game after WVU had come back from being down 20 points.
“I stayed with my normal routine,” Moore said after the game about his clutch free throw shooting. “I stayed focused and locked in and just made the shots.”
Not only did Moore’s aggressive attacks off the dribble get himself easy points at the free throw line, but that ability to dribble away from double teams created easy looks for his teammates as well. If it was not for Moore’s speed and ball handling, Obi Enechionyia’s 22 points would have been much harder to come by and Temple may not have beaten the 19th-ranked Mountaineers 81-77.
“I thought (Moore) really stepped up today. The presence and toughness he had hasn't necessarily shown itself before today,” Fran Dunphy said of the freshman point guard. “I thought he really stepped up towards the end of the first half, and then again making all those foul shots...I think he really arrived today.”
It was only a two game stretch, but the clutch performances from the underclassmen backcourt against two ranked teams gave people a taste of what can be a dangerously underrated Temple Owl team.
Yes, the season is early, and yes, they have shown already shown their growing pains in losses to New Hampshire and Massachusetts. But when this team gets it going, they are hard to stop. With older guys on the team like Daniel Dingle and Obi Enechionyia already off to solid starts, the blossoming of Quinton Rose, Alani Moore II, and Shizz Alston over the Thanksgiving tournament has created even more offensive options. If the young guards are able to sustain their efficient, aggressive, and intense play, do not be surprised to see the Owls dominate come time for conference play and a run at the NCAA Tournament.
Photo: Austin Ampeloquio/The Empire