Streaking Temple remains focused as crucial week looms

Owls head coach Fran Dunphy doesn’t anticipate using the same starting lineup he used against East Carolina when Temple heads to Dallas for a rematch with No. 25 SMU Thursday.

“Guys were a little late for a couple of assignments,” Dunphy said after Temple extended its winning streak to seven games with a 66-53 win over East Carolina Saturday afternoon.

Dunphy replaced usual starters Quenton DeCosey and Devontae Watson with Daniel Dingle and Mark Williams. DeCosey and Watson each entered the game after the first media timeout.

“I don’t think we’re afraid to do what we did today to put Dan and Mark in the starting lineup,” Dunphy, who’s in his ninth year at Temple, said. “They can all play. We have 10 guys out there who are playing and do a good job, so we’re not uncomfortable with whoever is in the game.”

This is a luxury Dunphy will welcome after what he went through last season when injuries decimated Temple’s rebuilding roster, forcing Dunphy to operate with a short bench. The roster is rebuilt with the additions of the three transfers, and the Owls are rolling with five games left.

Temple’s win streak is its longest of the season, and it is 13-3 in its last 16 games. The Owls are putting together an impressive résumé in their trek to get back to the NCAA tournament. They have a huge week ahead with two games against SMU and Tulsa, two of their last three losses.

If the Owls can claw out two wins, they could find themselves cracking the top-25. They’re facing the only two teams ahead of them in the American Athletic Conference. At the very least, two wins would put Temple on solid ground in making the tourney baring any major letdowns.

A split wouldn’t bury the Owls, as they would come away from the week as a 20-game winner. Worst-case scenario for Temple would be two losses. This is all fun and games, but for the Owls, it doesn’t matter. What matters is focusing on the task at hand, treating each game the same.

“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,” Will Cummings said.

The Owls’ next game comes Thursday against Larry Brown’s Mustangs (21-5, 12-2).

“They’re just really good, they’re a really good team,” Dunphy said. “They play … it sounds cliché because Coach Brown talks about it so much, they play the right way. The ball moves, they got good balance. Nic Morris is as good a point guard as there is in our league.”

One player Temple will have to keep an eye on is Markus Kennedy, who torched the Owls for 21 points in 26 minutes off the bench in SMU’s 60-55 win over Temple at Liacouras Center Jan. 14.

“He’s a really good basketball player,” Dunphy said. “His IQ is off the charts. He just, I thought he made a huge basket on us the first time we played when we had him absolutely guarded. I wish he were the only one we have to worry about. We got a bunch of guys to worry about.”

Kennedy helped the Mustangs beat Connecticut on Saturday night, contributing 13 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. SMU did away with UConn, 73-55.

“We’re going to discuss how difficult it is to play SMU,” Dunphy said. “And as soon as that game’s over at 9 o’clock on Thursday night we’ll set out sights to Tulsa.

“We have an extra day [of preparation] in there, but we know how good these two teams are. We gotta play our best basketball in order to win the games.”

*Story originally published on on Feb. 15, 2015.