By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Temple 76, Pennsylvania 67 – Box Score
The first Big 5 contest of the season had no shortage of storylines entering Tuesday night. Both coaches have ties to the historic rivalry. Penn head man Jerome Allen was drafted by the Timberwolves in 1995 following his illustrious playing career with the Quakers. Of course, he was recruited and coached to the University City campus by the man on the opposing sideline, as Coach Fran Dunphy had a illustrious 17-year coaching career there before moving on to Temple. Coach Dunphy said after the game, “It’s always a special night because of what Penn gave to me, they gave me a chance.”
Normally, the historic implications alone would make for an electric atmosphere, but between Penn entering play winless, and having been a city doormat in recent seasons (Temple had won the last 7 meetings between the clubs entering play), the crowd lacked some of the fire of past meetings. It didn’t help that the majority of students were seemingly already home for the holidays; the Temple student section might have been outnumbered by parents there to watch the Rainbow Elementary School choir sing the national anthem.
Nevertheless, fans in attendance and those watching from home were treated to a tightly-contested game throughout the evening. In the end, the Quakers didn’t have enough offensive firepower to overcome their sloppy play; 19 Penn turnovers led to 21 Temple points, against just 11 giveaways for 4 points in the other direction. As usual, Tony Hicks was the focal point of the attack for the Quakers, scoring a team-high 17 points before fouling out with over 6 minutes left in the game (leading to one of my favorite rituals where the crowd yells at the opposing player until he sits down). Penn did enough to remain within striking distance, but when Antonio Woods’ three-point attempt rimmed out in the closing minute, the Temple faithful began their spirited ‘I believe that we have won’ chant.
Unfortunately for Penn supporters, they learned before the game that freshman forward Mike Auger would be unavailable for the Quakers. Auger apparently injured his foot against Lafayette (speculatively on a dunk in the closing minutes), and could be seen in a walking boot on the Penn sidelines. The promising forward was the reigning Ivy League rookie of the week, having tallied 14.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg in his previous two contests.
As the great Pepper Brooks might say, his absence was noticeable, as Temple’s Mark Williams dominated the Quakers on the bottom-left part of Penn’s 2-3 zone where Auger might have been (with Matt Howard and Sam Jones taking turns getting bullied instead). Williams was everywhere for the Owls, grabbing 4 offensive boards (5 total), stretching the defense by hitting 2-5 threes, and finishing with a game and career-high 24 points. The sophomore forward even sank a spinning left-handed lay-in: a move that Coach Dunphy has specifically told him in practice not to use. Coach Dunphy on that shot after the game, “but it went in tonight, so I won’t yell at him too much.”
Alongside Williams’ dynamite offensive effort, Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey both had strong performances. Cummings tallied 16 points and 7 rebounds, but most importantly, recorded 5 assists against just 1 turnover, an area that had been a problem for him in the opening games (he’d entered play with more turnovers than assists). DeCosey had 14 points and 3 steals, and might have had an even bigger night if he didn’t spend a large portion of the second half on the bench with foul trouble.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives for Penn to take away from this contest. When he wasn’t trying to ignore chants of ‘Shave that beard!’ from the Temple student section, Penn center Darien Nelson-Henry was busy having his best game of the season, The big man finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks, doing a service to all the James Harden/lumberjack facial growth aficionados out there. Also stepping up was sophomore Matt Howard, who scored a career-high 15 points and looked as aggressive attacking the basket as at any point during his time as a Quaker.
So both Big 5 squads can use this contest as something to build upon going forward. Penn is still in search of its first victory, but if the Quakers put forth the effort they did at the Liacouras Center in upcoming games against Wagner, Navy, Binghamton, and Marist, that will change in a hurry. As for the Owls, they’re back over .500 after the 2-game hiccup in Brooklyn. If guys like Williams continue to provide consistent support to the starting backcourt of Cummings and DeCosey, they’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future.