"I just blocked everything out," T.J. said. "I just pretended I was shooting free throws at the gym with my dad."
Those free throws were a large part of the nearly flawless efforts from DiLeo and Jake O'Brien, a pair of brainy players, in Temple's 76-72 win over North Carolina State.
O'Brien's 18 points told only half his story. DiLeo's four points in 22 minutes told almost none of his.
"He's what every team wants and needs," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "He could care less if he starts or comes off the bench, or if it's 5 minutes or 25 minutes. I think he is as much a character person as I've ever had the opportunity to coach."
O'Brien and DiLeo likely are playing their final games of meaningful basketball. Both were asked Friday to caulk the seams of Temple's often leaky defense, and did.
"They battled all game long," said Khalif Wyatt, who, as usual, carried the Owls, this time with 31 points. "You look at NC State: They had athletic guys who were bigger and stronger than we were."
O'Brien, an awkward giraffe of a player, hit four of six three-pointers and seven of nine field goals, but, perhaps as important, he battled Wolfpack thoroughbred forwards Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie to a standstill for the first 30 minutes. O'Brien played 32 minutes, 12 more than his average, but Temple needed him.
Anthony Lee, the usual starting forward and the team's leading rebounder, managed just 8 minutes. Lee is recovering from a sinus issue exacerbated last week by a blow to the head.
The start, and the challenge, fell to O'Brien, a willowy, 6-9 transfer from Boston University. He had started just six times this season. O'Brien finished with five rebounds, and Howell and Leslie combined for 20, but only four of them were offensive rebounds. O'Brien's efforts were less tangible than his line reflected.
"O'Brien was terrific," Dunphy said. "He boxed out great. He was always in the right spot. Overall, he was tremendous."
So was DiLeo, who helped hold Scott Wood scoreless for almost 35 minutes. Wood scored 19 points per game in the ACC Tournament, which pushed NC State into the semifinals and, after a turbulent season, helped the Wolfpack earn a No. 8 seed in the East Region, one better than Temple.
Wood's 10 points down the stretch helped trim Temple's lead from 12 points to 3 with 2:18 left. However, DiLeo's defense forced Wood to miss with 1:13 to play, and Wood then fouled DiLeo.
With his parents looking on, T.J. - the prayers of Cinnaminson, N.J., fortifying him - drained both free throws to make it 68-62 with 54 seconds left.
"We were just so excited for him," his father said.
"They were kind of saying, 'Let's foul this guy,' and he stepped up and made those," Dunphy said. "I couldn't be more proud of him."
That Temple so desperately needed DiLeo's free throws underscores how flawed the team can be.
O'Brien's 14 points in the first half helped Temple to a 16-point lead, which grew to 18 early in the second half. The Wolfpack focused on defending O'Brien, and Wyatt sprained his left thumb, and suddenly the lead was down to 10, then 3; then, in the final seconds, to 2.
Both O'Brien and DiLeo are graduate students pursuing marketing MBAs. Neither had trouble producing a slogan for this talented but inconsistent Temple team.
"United we stand, divided we fall," O'Brien offered.
That has been the team motto for the last 6 weeks. In that span, Temple beat NCAA Tournament teams Virginia Commonwealth and La Salle, cementing a berth after earlier wins over Syracuse, Villanova and Saint Louis. In that span Temple also lost to Duquesne, St. Joseph's and Massachusetts, which, along with a December loss to Canisius, created the crop of skeptics.
DiLeo's slogan: "We'll definitely keep you entertained."
He was referring to how handily the Owls can blow a lead, as they nearly did Friday.
They didn't blow it all the way. They fought. They hung on.
"I'm pretty satisfied with my performance," DiLeo said. "Every team needs players like [me]; players you can count on every single game. That's the mark of good teams."
Is Temple a good team?
Consider that the Owls, with the lead, committed two fouls in the last 24.1 seconds - common fouls, no less. Consider they shot 63.6 percent from the line, and only because Wyatt and DiLeo were 8-for-8 down the stretch and 14-for-16 overall. The other players missed 10 of 17.
Maybe Tony DiLeo can run a free-throw clinic for the rest of the team Saturday. He's staying in town.
The Owls on Friday moved to 2-6 in NCAA Tournament games since Dunphy arrived at Temple seven seasons ago, including two losses as a No. 5 seed to No. 12 seeds.
If they want a third win for Dunphy, it will mean beating No. 1 seed Indiana, the best team it has faced this season, which included opponents Duke, SU, SLU, VCU and Butler.
NC State was picked to win the ACC but finished fourth. In the Wolfpack, the Owls faced a club cowed by expectations, worn down by failures. Indiana is a power.
Temple will need more than 1-for-3 shooting in 38 minutes from senior forward Scootie Randall. Temple will need to further incorporate Lee, a 6-9 sophomore, who was being marginalized even before his health issues surfaced.
They will need to be more than united. Better than entertaining. They will need everything they got from DiLeo and O'Brien, and they will need much, much more.