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It's a win but Owls expect more

Next up, American opener vs. UConn

TEMPLE DIDN'T get its ninth win last season until the next-to-last game.

It's taken these Owls (9-4) 13.

There's a difference.

Six days after spanking No. 10 Kansas by 25 in South Philly they beat Delaware State (5-8), a team they had never played before, at the Liacouras Center, 66-56. It was their last nonconference game. On Wednesday afternoon they'll have their American opener at Connecticut (6-4), which in case anyone has forgotten is still the reigning national champion.

Every victory can't be national-headline material. This one wasn't even close. They all count. About the only thing these teams had in common was that they had both beaten Penn and Delaware. So coming off Kansas, maybe it was bound to happen. Still, how many expected the Owls to be up by just four points at the first media timeout of the second half?

Coach Fran Dunphy, always a stickler for details, will no doubt go out of his way to remind his guys of all the things he didn't like before they head to Hartford.

"We certainly did talk about [a possible letdown] ad nauseum," Dunphy said. "We didn't shoot it well, especially early on. If a couple of those had gone, we might have played a little more loose.

"We should have been better than we were."

Good thing the Hornets - who won at Wake Forest in late November 2 days after losing by 50 at Iona - simply didn't have enough to take advantage of the opening. Whatever. Now it's on to the second season.

"We have to be ready to play some really tough games, starting Wednesday," Dunphy said. "They're UConn.

"We're embarking on a tough, tough trip. Each and every league game is going to be a great challenge. The chips will fall where they may."

They were picked to finish sixth in the AAC, but that was 2 months ago. At the moment they have more wins than any of the other nine members and an RPI number (in the mid 30s) that would be NCAA Tournament-worthy if the bids were being handed out tomorrow. Of course the Selection Show is still more than 2 months away.

Last March the AAC sent four teams to the only postseason tourney that's relevant. And SMU was probably one of the best that didn't get in. The Owls didn't make it, for the first time in 7 years. It happens, sometimes even to the most successful of programs.

This group improved to 6-0 on North Broad, and 3-0 since it added transfer guards Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman, two Philly guys. How's that for relevance? But every journey is mostly about growth.

The Hornets, who've only played twice at home, had also lost by 39 at Rhode Island. But after falling behind by 14 after 10 minutes, they made the Owls work for it. Morgan, their top scorer, would make four straight three-pointers to create some separation. Until then he hadn't scored. The Owls were up by 13 with 6 minutes left, and the best Delaware State could do after that was get it down to eight 3 minutes later.

Morgan finished with 15, all from the arc, and tied a career high (set in 2013 at Massachusetts) with five assists.

"When the first one went in, I was locked in after that," he said.

"There are times when you're going to have to live with some of the misses," added Dunphy. "Because you know he can go on one of those runs."

The Owls also got a dozen from Jaylen Bond, who more importantly had 18 rebounds, which tied a building record.

"I just try to be aggressive on the glass, at both ends," he said. "You want to get every ball you can. We knew it was going to be a long game. We had to stay with it.

"Jesse's a shooter. Even if he misses he's going to keep shooting . . . We believe in the things we can do."

The Hornets, who played almost exclusively zone, got 22 points from their leading scorer, senior guard Amere May, on 18 shots. Big man Kendall Gray, who missed their last game on Dec. 20 at Oregon, had 15 boards.

The Owls, who had just five turnovers and 10 blocks (four by Devontae Watson, matching his career best), shot 32 percent. But the visitors were worse (29), especially from deep (21).

It was that kind of exercise.

"[Kansas] was a good game," Morgan said. "When you beat a Top 10 team, you kind of focus on that a lot. Coach stresses about moving on to the next game. We try to do that as much as we can.

"We have to stay positive going forward, whether it's the next play or the next game. We still have a lot to do. We're trying not to get too much looking past anything."

See you at the XL Center.