That’s the motto of many college basketball teams this time of year. Temple is no different.
The Owls entered the XL Center in Hartford on Friday firmly situated on the NCAA Tournament bubble and in need of a win over Memphis to likely keep their tournament hopes alive.
After more than 39 minutes of play, Temple would find itself knotted at 71-71 with the Tigers and the pressure continuing to build.
A scramble would ensue under the Temple basket with 39 seconds remaining, as Will Cummings came away with the ball and fed it to Obi Enechionyia for the basket and the foul. Enechionyia would sink the free throw to give the Owls a 74-71 lead, and Temple would hang on down the stretch for an 80-75 win over Memphis to advance to the semifinals of the AAC Tournament.
“Just a great win for us,” said Temple Coach Fran Dunphy. “Any time you can advance in your conference tournament, we’re delighted to do it. I thought we made some good plays down the stretch. I thought our defense was decent and yet we gave up a couple of easy baskets that we probably can’t do. But, we survived. And we survived and move on tomorrow and play a very good SMU team.”
Temple would stretch its lead to five, but Memphis would close the half strong, hitting a jumper with three seconds remaining in the half to head to the locker room up 32-31.
The Tigers would dominate the interior early, totaling 22 points in the paint in the first half, while the Owls found their starters struggling a bit.
Worse yet for the Owls, forward Jaylen Bond injured his ankle with just over a minute remaining in the half, taking perhaps Temple’s best defender in the lane out of the game.
With Bond unable to return in the second half, the Owls would be forced to look to their other big men to make up for his absence. Enechionyia and Devontae Watson would do just that, contributing throughout the half to help keep the Owls in the game.
“He’s (Bond) a key part of our team, but we ultimately told guys they had to step up,” Cummings said. “Devontae came out strong. He gave us a great lift when he came in the game. We just tried to rally around each other.”
After two free throws from Quenton DeCosey, the Owls would find themselves with a 66-58 lead with just 3:41 remaining in the game. The Tigers would pounce once more, however, utilizing a 13-5 run to tie the game at 71-71 with 48 seconds left.
That’s when Enechionyia would step up the most.
After Cummings came away from the wild scramble with the ball, Enechionyia would finish the play for the basket and the foul. He would then knock down the ensuing free throw to give the Owls a 74-71 lead with 39 seconds remaining.
“It was kind of a bad play to take at the time, but it kind of worked out,” Cummings said. “I just wanted to get the ball as quick as possible to Obi on the break. It was a loose ball so I tried to just dive on the ground and get it, and fortunately we made a great play with that one and knocked out the free throw.”
Cummings and Enechionyia would ice the game at the foul line for the Owls, combining to make seven free throws over the final 39 seconds of play to boost Temple to an 80-75 win over the Memphis.
“He’s been growing over the year and that’s what we expect him to do now,” Cummings said of Enechionyia’s performance in the clutch. “We say he’s a sophomore, we don’t say he’s a freshman anymore, so we trust him out there and he’s gaining our trust even more by knocking out free throws and making big baskets like he did down the stretch.”
Cummings would lead the Owls in the win, scoring 21 points, including going 10-for-11 from the charity stripe, but not to be overlooked were the contributions of Enechionyia, Watson and others, who stepped up when needed to help Temple survive and advance to play SMU on Saturday.
By: Kyle Babcock
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