In the absence of two of Temple’s best players, two role players stepped up for the Owls in their home opener.
Without injured starters, redshirt-senior Micheal Eric and senior forward Scootie Randall, junior guard Khalif Wyatt scored a game-high 23 points and sophomore guard Aaron Brown scored a career-high 21 points to lead Temple to an 86-74 win against Central Michigan.
“Everybody has a role and they have to perform that role,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We can’t ever feel sorry for ourselves. We have good players, let’s get out there and play. But we have to play harder and smarter and tougher.”
After scoring 11 points in eight minutes in the first half, Brown played nearly the entire second half. He finished with 21 points in 22 minutes.
“[Our other guards], they draw a lot of attention,” Brown said. “[Dunphy] has been emphasizing that I have to be ready to shoot because some people don’t know that I’m a shooter.”
Wyatt started at guard and scored a game-high 23 points while dishing out seven assists in 31 minutes.
“We’re playing faster now,” Wyatt said. “Our guards are making good decisions and we’re getting open shots.”
Eric’s absence in the frontcourt hurt the Owls on defense. Redshirt-freshman Anthony Lee struggled defensively in the second start of his collegiate career. Central Michigan senior forward Andre Coimbra scored 22 points and had little trouble establishing himself in the paint.
“[Lee] was just okay today, not as good as he had been in previous games,” Dunphy said. “He’s a freshman, he’s six games into his career. When I yell at him, I’ll be yelling because I think he can do better, but at the same time I’m taking a step back and saying he’s going to make those kinds of mistakes.”
Wyatt and Brown emphasized that the rest of the team has to help out when Lee is struggling in the paint
“We’re smaller, so we have to be a little bit more scrappier,” Wyatt said. “When they’re trying to bully [Lee] inside, we have to help out.”
“With [Eric] and [Randall] out, whatever the rotation is, whoever’s playing has to step up,” Brown added.
The Owls shot a lights out 67.9 percent from the floor in the first half, including a three-point percentage of better than 50 percent. An early 18-2 run helped build a large Temple lead midway through the first half.
Senior guard Juan Fernandez hit two threes in the Owls’ first three possessions, and had 10 of Temple’s first 18 points. Brown was Temple’s leading scorer in the first half, netting 11 points while coming off the bench.
Coimbra led the Chippewas on an 18-2 run of their own towards the end of the first half to cut the Temple lead to fourteen at the break.
“We weren’t nearly good enough [on defense],” Dunphy said. “We have to cover for one another, I don’t think we did nearly good enough of a job.”
Brown continued with his hot hand in the second half, scoring 10 points to finish with a career-high 21 points.
Wyatt took over offensively in the second half and scored a team-high 13 second half points. Despite the best efforts from Coimbra and Chippewas’ sophomore guard Trey Zeigler, who each scored more than 20 points, the Owls stayed ahead for the entire second half and won the game 86-74.
“We have the makings of a good basketball team,” Dunphy said. “How good? We’re going to have to play with a couple of guys out, but it’s fun to be playing basketball and giving every guy an opportunity to play.”
Temple (4-2) will face Toledo (6-1) in Ohio on Wednesday before returning home to face inner-city rival Villanova (4-2) on Dec.10.
“Our next game is the biggest game,” Wyatt said. “So right now Toledo is the biggest game on our schedule.”