Temple downs American behind strong defensive effort

Temple point guard Will Cummings couldn’t tell you what kind of zone American played Friday night, but whatever it was, it resulted in holding the Owls to 40 points.

“Their strategy was to sit on three-point line and play in that zone,” Cummings said. “That was the first time I’ve seen a zone like that in my life. We’re not really worried about it. We have so many people that can score. We’re just glad that we came out here on defense the way we did.”

Right, defense, the team’s biggest wart last season. On a night they shot 22.9 percent from the field, the Owls opened the season with an impressive defensive showing in a 40-37 win over American at the Liacouras Center.

The Owls outrebounded the Eagles, 39-25, with a 17-3 advantage on the offensive boards, while four different Owls finished with at least five boards. Temple also held American to 30.8 percent from the field and 3 for 23 (13.0 percent) from three-point range.

“We gave up a half a dozen or so on backcourt cuts, two of them were late,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “But otherwise, I thought we defended the three very well. They’re a pretty good three-point jump-shooting team. I thought we did a pretty good job at that.”

All of this came with Temple shorthanded. Jaylen Bond dressed but didn’t play in the opener because of a sprained ankle, which Dunphy said after the game is a day-to-day injury. While Dunphy was pleased with his team’s defensive effort, Bond would have aided in one area.

“He would have helped us with stick-backs off of offensive rebounds,” Dunphy said. “We got enough offensive rebounds. We got 17 of them, but I don’t know how many of them we stuck back in the basket, and that’s certainly something that he can do. He would have helped.”

Cummings struggled shooting, as did the whole team. The senior went 1 for 13 from the floor and missed all six of his three-point attempts. He finished with seven points, six rebounds and six assists and played the entire game.

“It was just something that happened,” Cummings said. “I just went with the flow. Coach, I guess, felt he needed me on the floor for 40 minutes, so I played 40 minutes.”

Late in a second half, in which Temple shot 20.8 percent from the field, Cummings spotted big Jimmy McDonnell in the corner and tossed it out to the 6-foot-10 senior, who drained a three to put Temple up, 39-28. That three-pointer proved to be huge in the final stretch.

“It was huge because I tell Jimmy to shoot all the time,” Cummings said. “And just for him to step into that confidently and take the shot, I trust it with him, I threw it back to the corner. I’m just glad he took the shot and it went in.”

Temple allowed American to climb within two points with 14 seconds left after having an 11-point lead with a little over three minutes to play after McDonnell’s three-pointer. Despite bending, Temple’s defense was able to force American to take a bad three-pointer as time expired.

“This is a really good win for us because we’re trying to be better defensively,” Dunphy said. “I thought we did just about everything we needed to do other than those, as I said, those backdoor cuts we gave up.”

Daniel Dingle and Mark Williams led the way for Temple offensively, each finishing with 11 points and each making two three-pointers. For Dingle, it was his first game action since tearing his meniscus in his right knee before the New Year last season.

“At first I took a shot, I didn’t have my legs underneath me,” Dingle said. “But the first shot I made, it was good and just defensively, I tried to get myself going defensively. And these guys pushing me, it’s not the first time being on the court, so I felt right at home.”

In his first game back, Dingle played 38 minutes and shot 3 for 6 from the field and 2 for 4 from three-point range.

“I was ready to come off the bench, anything the team needed,” Dingle said. “Play 20 minutes, play 10 minutes, whatever. So happened I played 35 or whatever the case may be. I was just happy to help my team win.”

And win with 40 points. That doesn’t happen too often.

“It was just such a crazy game. You’re in those games every once in a while,” Dunphy said. “For us to end up winning the game, I’m thrilled at that. Can we do better? Absolutely. Do we have to do better? Absolutely.”

*Story originally published on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com on Nov. 14, 2014.