Temple sub Dalton Pepper finding his rhythm

Temple's Dalton Pepper, a former Pennsbury star, scored 11 points off the bench against Charlotte.
Temple's Dalton Pepper, a former Pennsbury star, scored 11 points off the bench against Charlotte. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: February 09, 2013

Temple reserve Dalton Pepper knows the unwritten rules of being a reserve. To do it right, you stay in the game mentally every play.

"Just never be out of the game in my head. I visualize myself out there playing," Pepper said.

He's done more visualizing than playing this season because he's rarely found a rhythm after transferring from West Virginia. He's missed three-quarters of his three-pointers, which were supposed to be a strength.

That didn't change Wednesday in the first half against Charlotte. Pepper put in five minutes of uneventful work, took two shots, both bouncing off the rim. It didn't look like he'd get out there again in the second half.

You couldn't have predicted his second half.

"I've been waiting to see that for months," Fran Dunphy said afterward.

Temple's coach was referring to one Pepper play, when he drove from the wing to the foul line and hit a pull-up jumper in rhythm. By then, Pepper already had found a jolt of confidence. His first three-pointer, a catch-and-shoot from the corner, was good all the way.

Pepper stayed out there for 20 straight possessions, maybe his longest run of the season, certainly his most important. He reached a season-high 11 points in just those 20 possessions and made other smart basketball plays. He drove again to the foul line and hit a cutting teammate for a layup. He showed his savvy on a drive to the hoop. When a Charlotte defender blocked off access to the backboard, Pepper took a half-stride step toward the baseline, freeing just a little space to feather in a shot from a tougher but open angle.

"I'm just happy for him that he got this game under his belt," Dunphy said. "Now you hope he can build on this. He can really add to us."

The production was crucial for Temple's 89-88 victory, which left Owls fans more frustrated than entertained. At one point, Temple and Charlotte combined for 14 straight scoring possessions - a seriously long defense-free stretch - before a turnover-fest in the closing minutes. Temple didn't win ugly, just badly.

"You could make the argument that he sort of saved us, he and Jake," Dunphy said, referring to Pepper and Jake O'Brien, who came off the bench for 22 points.

"I'm not really frustrated," Pepper said right after Wednesday's game. "Our team has been playing up and down. I've been playing up and down. I mean, everyone has their ups and downs. It happens to every athlete. You've just got to wait your turn, go play when you're ready. Once you get the feel for it and get comfortable out there, everything changes. You're not thinking of making a mistake here. You've just got to get on to the next play and play as hard as you can."

Pepper wasn't just a star at Pennsbury High. He was considered the top player in the Philly area, the state AAAA player of the year. I was at Villanova when Khalif Wyatt's Norristown team knocked Pepper's team out in the district semifinals. It was an event. Wyatt, now Temple's star, had 17 to lead Norristown. Pepper had 28 for Pennsbury.

After two years of sporadic reserve minutes at West Virginia, Pepper switched to North Broad Street. From the sound of the crowd Wednesday at the Liacouras Center, a lot of people were writing the 6-foot-5 junior off. Then Pepper showed glimpses of his former self.

Can we assume the weight of his own expectations are heavy?

"Yeah, his expectations, and all those around him," Dunphy said. "Everybody expects Dalton to be this superstar guy, and he's a very good player, as he showed tonight.''

Dunphy mentioned that in addition to an Owls assistant coach scouting each opponent, a Temple player is assigned to do each scouting report with the assistant. Something new this year.

"What comes out of his mouth is intelligent, well thought-out. It's concise," Dunphy said. "It has a plan to it. So it's great to watch. He's got that basketball IQ."

It's hard to remember a Dunphy team, at Penn or Temple, with a rotation so unsettled, with minutes basically earned (or unearned) on the fly as the Owls try to scratch their way to the NCAA tournament, with no real style to hang their hat on.

So it will be most interesting to see if Pepper's 20 good possessions carry over. Pepper surely will get minutes again Saturday at Dayton, will get a chance to find his rhythm all over again.

"Once you knock down that first shot, every time the basket gets bigger and bigger," Pepper said. "You keep wanting to shoot it. Once you see one go in, you think they're all going to go in."

Whatever your pedigree, that unwritten rule of the game never changes.

Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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