Temple takes care of business against Fordham

Temple's Micheal Eric blocks shot by Fordham's Bryan Smith in first half.
Temple's Micheal Eric blocks shot by Fordham's Bryan Smith in first half. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 02, 2012

IF YOU WANT to be the best team in your conference, you obviously have to get past enough of the other contenders.

But you also have to get it done against the not-as-good clubs, especially at home, because they all count.

Temple, which is looking more and more like the Atlantic 10's team to beat, did exactly that last night at the Liacouras Center, where the Owls rarely lose even to the haves. Temple won its fifth straight, to remain tied for first in the loss column, 78-60 over Fordham, which has now lost six of eight. It's called taking care of business, which Fran Dunphy's guys have usually been able to do, particularly when the season heads into the final month.

"To me, it's so much harder to prepare, make our guys understand how important a game like this is," said Dunphy, whose team has won its last four by an average of nearly 19 points. "We weren't as ready as we should have been, especially early. We [eventually] got our act together. We talk about embracing the moment, embracing the opportunity of playing college basketball. I think we did it in stretches. And in some we could have done better."

The Rams (9-12, 2-6 Atlantic 10), who led by five after 7 minutes, had 21 points after 10. They would add 19 in the next 20.

"We didn't get a lot of stops in the beginning," said junior guard Khalif Wyatt. "When we put a few together, we were able to put some distance between us and them."

It was an eight-point game by halftime. The biggest lead was 23, twice, midway through the second half.

The Owls (16-5, 5-2), who are at last-place Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon, haven't allowed more than 60 since big man Micheal Eric returned from a knee injury four games ago. In the 13 games he missed, they held opponents under that number only once. That was against Toledo, which scored 58 on Dec. 7.

"I would hope his presence means something," Dunphy said. "He certainly is a presence defensively."

The fifth-year senior tied a career high with five blocks in 14 minutes off the bench. He also had four turnovers, to go with three rebounds.

"I think there were a couple of more that he could have got," Dunphy noted. "But that's all part of the get-back-in-the-flow-thing issue."

In Saturday's win over Saint Joseph's, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez combined for 32 of the Owls' 38 first-half points on 13-for-17 shooting. This time, Wyatt, after going 1-for-5 against the Hawks, had the Owls' first 10 points and 13 of their first 16. He finished with 24. That was one less than Moore, who is making a push to become Temple's first A-10 Player of the Year since Pepe Sanchez in 1999-2000. Moore had 20 of his points after intermission, when he went 7-for-8. His six three-pointers were a career-best.

"It would be pretty nice if we could get that kind of production from two of our three [guards] all the time," Dunphy said.

It didn't matter that Fernandez only scored eight. Besides, he only had one turnover and did a decent job on the defensive end.

"That's a great advantage [for us] to have," said Moore, of Temple's three-headed backcourt. "We talk about how somebody's always going to get off. We're going to depend on the three of us to score the majority of the time."

Added Wyatt: "I think we got some good shots the whole game. It's just a matter of making those shots. We had some good streaks, and some not-so-good. Our offense is about getting shots.

"It's just the way the flow of the game was going, that I was getting open [looks] and lanes to the basket."

Fordham got 23 points from freshman Bryan Smith, a new career high. He made four of six from the arc. His teammates were 1-for-10. The Rams will host Temple a month from now in the regular-season finale. Motivation probably won't be a problem, even if the Owls are fortunate enough to be in a position where they already have something clinched.

"You have to be ready to play any time, no matter," Moore said. "We can't use [the opponent] as an excuse. They're trying to win the game [too].

"It's just something we have to work on. You have to believe the other team is going to come out. Every year they play us tough. We didn't come out too ready in the beginning. It was a tough game. We made it that way."

If only for awhile. As he duly noted, something to improve upon going forward. Never hurts.

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