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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Owls play host to No. 3/5 Duke

Temple (9-3) will play in arguably its most anticipated regular season game of the season tonight as the Owls host Duke (12-1) at  7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

The game, which will broadcast nationally on ESPN 2, is a part two of the schools’ home and home agreement. The Owls lost to the Blue Devils, 78-61, last year at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Blue Devils’ then senior Kyle Singler led all scorers with 28 points, while then senior forward Lavoy Allen led the Owls with a double double.

Both Singler and Allen have now moved on, making it so that this year’s matchup promises to feature some new faces.

For Duke, the USA Today third-ranked and Associated Press fifth-ranked Blue Devils are led in scoring by freshman guard Austin Rivers, who averages more than 15 points per game. Duke also features a plethora of lengthy forwards, including a pair of 6’10 brothers named Plumlee, junior Mason and senior Miles.

Temple counters with its trio of high-scoring guards and undersized forwards. The Owls senior guards Juan Fernandez (13.3 ppg) and Ramone Moore (17.4 ppg), and junior guard Khalif Wyatt (14.2 ppg) all average more than 10 points per game, but injuries have cost the Owls in the frontcourt.

Graduate center Micheal Eric and senior forward Scootie Randall have both missed significant time due to injury this season and will not play tonight. Randall is expected to redshirt this season as he has struggled to recover from offseason surgery in June to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his knee. Eric has missed Temple’s last eight games after re-injuring the same kneecap that kept him out of his last 10 games last year.

Both Eric and Randall were also injured for Temple’s game last year against Duke.

In Eric and Randall’s absence, the Owls are left with two inexperienced forwards in the frontcourt. Redshirt-freshman Anthony Lee will start in only the 13th game of his career alongside junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who is a natural three-guard forced to play power forward.

The 6’9 Lee and 6’6 Hollis-Jefferson will have their hands full trying to defend the bigger Plumlee brothers, along with Blue Devils junior forward Ryan Kelly, who is six foot, eleven inches and weighs 230 pounds.

The Blue Devils high-scoring offense is built around the three-point shot. Duke has the sixth-best three point percentage in the country and has hit 90 threes in 13 games so far this season. Temple counters with the 4th-best defense in the country defending the three, holding opponents to a three-point percentage of just 25.6 percent.

Instead of trying to win the game in the paint, the Owls will try to rely on their talented trio of guards and their excellent perimeter defense.

This is a formula that has proven to give Duke some trouble this season. In the Blue Devils’ season opener against Belmont, the Bruins’ trio of experienced guards all shot better than 50 percent and scored more than 10 points as Belmont took Duke to the buzzer in a 77-76 loss.

If Temple can shoot the ball better than their 37.8 average in their past two games and defend the three as well as they have all season, then its experienced club could pull off the upset against the young Duke squad that features only one senior.

Temple is no stranger to upsetting elite programs of late, either. In the past three seasons, the Owls have defeated a program ranked in the Top-10 in the country.

Tonight, in front of a national audience and a home crowd, the Owls will try to make it four in a row.

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