Temple eases past East Carolina for 7th straight win

Jaylen Bond saw something on film before Saturday’s game against East Carolina that suggested the middle of the paint would be open, and in turn, it would allow him to dominate the glass.

“I knew it was going to be tough for them to keep me off the glass with the zone they were playing,” Bond said after Temple’s 66-53 win over ECU on Saturday afternoon at the Liacouras Center. “I was trying to find my spots and crash the glass hard. I was able to get some easy rebounds and hard ones.”

There were some easy ones. Some seemed too easy. Others were more difficult. One allowed Temple to take a comfortable 15-point lead in the second half. He finished that sequence with a floater, too. But in the end, he reeled in 16 boards against the Pirates, including six offensive.

It was another strong game for the American Athletic Conference’s leading rebounder and the player Fran Dunphy dubbed the single-most important reason Temple has gone from allowing 78.1 points per game last season to 60.0 this season. On Saturday, Bond’s teammates followed his lead to dominate ECU on the boards.

Temple’s rebounding allowed it to win its seventh straight game and improve to 13-3 in its last 16 games since losing, 85-62, to then-No. 7 Villanova. The Owls (19-7, 10-3) outrebounded the Pirates, 49-26. They had a 30-10 advantage at halftime, and gobbled up 18 offensive rebounds overall.

“I didn’t know we would get this much of an advantage,” Dunphy said. “Jaylen Bond was tremendous on the glass, as he usually is, but very, very good today.

“When you get 18 offensive rebounds, that’s pretty good. We had a couple of real important stick-backs, too, because guys stayed with the play. I think Josh Brown did it one time, Will Cummings another time, Jesse Morgan another time. It was good stuff.”

Coming out in the second half with a 34-18 lead, the Owls allowed the Pirates (11-14, 4-8) to shoot their way back into the game. ECU came out shooting well, with a few three-pointers from guard Terry Whisnant, who finished with 13 points on 3 of 10 shooting from beyond the arc.

ECU made it interesting, pulling within 11 points of Temple with 10:40 left to play. It was still a double-digit lead for the Owls, but the Pirates were starting to find their rhythm. A couple more threes from the Pirates, who were 7 of 15 from long range in the second half, and it’s a game.

“I think, first of all, ECU is very good at making those shots,” Dunphy said about the Pirates’ second-half run. “The kid Whisnant was very good. I thought we were in the neighborhood on a number of those shots. We didn’t really contest as well as we needed to. To their credit, they made shots.”

With a 13-point lead with 9:30 left, Bond jump-started the Owls with a defensive board, and then finished the possession with a floater to push Temple’s lead to 15. On ECU’s next possession, Devontae Watson rejected guard Caleb White, which let Temple make it a 57-40 game.

From that point forward, the Owls took complete control. They kept their lead hovering around 17 the rest of the way. They got it to 18 before finishing with the 13-point decision. Even Jimmy McDonnell, Nick Pendergast, Mike Robbins and Chima Nwakpuda got some playing time.

Tuesday’s win over Cincinnati set up Saturday to be a letdown game for Temple. While ECU was 3-1 in its previous four games, it’s in the bottom half of the American. But the Owls, who started Dan Dingle and Mark Williams over Watson and Quenton DeCosey, didn’t let that happen.

“We’re just trying to do a good job of going to the next game and not worrying about what we did the previous game and taking the same importance into each game,” Cummings said. “We beat Cincinnati — that was a big game. But we had to take care of East Carolina because if you drop this one, that’s a bad loss.

“If we want to do what we want with our goals, we have to take care of the lower teams in our conference and take care of the bigger teams, too.”

Cummings led all scorers with 17 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Cummings was also active on the defensive end of the floor, grabbing seven boards to go with two blocks and two steals. He also chipped in six assists.

For Cummings, the message going into next week is simple: two wins. Temple heads to Dallas to face No. 25 SMU, which plays Saturday night vs. UConn, then heads to Tulsa on Sunday.

“Two wins. That’s really what we want to accomplish,” Cummings said. “We have goals that we set for our team, and we just want to go out there and do the little things to make sure we’re focused each and every game. It’s a big week for us and we’re ready to get back to work.”

*Story originally published on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com on Feb. 14, 2015.