By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
(18-10) Temple 63, (11-16) UCF 61 – Box Score
The Temple Owls have been involved in an inordinate number of close games this season. At different times, a number of different players have been called upon in the final moments to help decide the game. However, Saturday against UCF, with the game tied in the closing seconds, head coach Fran Dunphy knew leading scorer Quenton DeCosey was the man he wanted to turn to:
“He’s as good a scorer as we have…He has no fear, so that’s the other thing, he thinks he’s gonna make everything. So I felt pretty confident he would do a good job at least getting us a good look.”
With Temple holding for the final shot, DeCosey rose up from the top of the key and drained the jumper with 3 seconds remaining in regulation, good for 2 of his 16 points and an Owls victory. DeCosey discussed his confidence in being called upon in that moment:
“Everybody’s capable to take the shot, but coach drew it up for me, He trusted me to take and make the shot and that’s what I did.”
Meanwhile, while there weren’t a ton of students in the stands due to Temple’s spring break, there were numerous NBA scouts in attendance to evaluate UCF’s 7’6″ freshman Tacko Fall. Fall did not disappoint, finishing with 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks. He threw down a few alley-oops that Temple’s defenders had no chance of stopping, and posed such an imposing figure that I think on one dunk, one of his feet didn’t even leave the ground.
Defensively, even when he wasn’t getting credit with a block, Fall was affecting the offensive decision-making for the Owls, as forward Obi Enechionyia pointed out after the game:
“He’s a presence in the paint. He changes a lot of shots. So when you get down there, you just have to go with the pump fake and kick out to your teammates.”
With Jaylen Bond in foul trouble and needing a way to draw Fall away from the basket, the Owls went with a 5-out offense for a large portion of the second half, featuring Enechionyia at the 5 and Daniel Dingle at the 4. The move worked, thanks in large part to the load carried on both ends by Enechionyia, who finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds. When asked about his success both against UCF and in recent weeks, Enechionyia said:
“I know I’m being a lot more aggressive than I was during the first half of the season. That’s really all that is, coming into the game with a different mindset, knowing anyone I’m playing against, I can score against, focusing more on rebounds. hitting the glass, and just being more of an all-around player. It’s just aggression and confidence.”
Fran Dunphy also discussed how his sophomore’s offensive game has continued to blossom:
“I haven’t seen too many other people that shoot it as well as he does at that forward spot when he gets his feet set. He’s doing a really good job of it. He’s confident in the way he’s playing the game right now.”
The Owls got out to a 6-point advantage and it looked like they might finally pull away. The Knights hung around though, thanks to the performance of guard Daiquan Walker. Walker scored 15 of his game-high 21 points after halftime, hitting 3 of 7 threes and repeatedly making his way to the foul line (8-10 on the game). Still, Walker’s efforts weren’t quite enough, simply setting the stage for DeCosey to shine in the closing moments.
The win, narrow though it was, still kept Temple’s slim at-large tournament hopes alive. When asked if this season is taking years off his life, Dunphy said:
“We’re certainly living on the edge…We’ve had an interesting year to say the least.”
For the next couple weeks, Temple will just have to keep taking things one game at a time, and hope the late-game shots keep falling in their favor.