THE STREAK continues for the Temple Owls. But if last night's 87-85, overtime squeaker over the Buffalo Bulls in the Liacouras Center proves anything, it is that Micheal Eric had better demonstrate that he's a quick healer.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Lee's layup as time expired enabled Temple (8-3) to extend its home winning streak to 25 games. But as exhilarating as the victory was, it couldn't camouflage the fact that there is only so much that can be done with a small lineup that needs to drain a lot of three-pointers to defeat teams with bigger, stronger post players.
With Eric, the 6-11 graduate student from Nigeria, expected to be sidelined for another 3 to 4 weeks with an injury of the right patella suffered in practice on Nov. 25, coach Fran Dunphy has had to rely - overly rely, in some instances - on perimeter players whose strengths can be offset by opposing big men who know that Eric isn't under the basket and serving as the designated enforcer.
"Obviously, we're undersized and undergirthed," Dunphy said. "Is that a word? We're going to have to battle like crazy because, unfortunately, I think we're going to have a lot of games like this."
Minus Eric and with the 6-9, 210-pound Lee being manhandled most of the way by 6-7, 245-pound Javon McCrea (28 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots) and 6-10 Mitchell Watt (22 points, nine rebounds, three blocks), the Owls trailed most of the second half and frequently seemed on the verge of letting the game get away from them. But Buffalo (6-4) made just enough mistakes to keep opening small windows of opportunity, and the Owls took advantage of those often enough to give themselves a chance to win.
One such moment came with 1 minute, 3 seconds remaining in regulation when the Bulls' Titus Robinson missed two free throws with his team up, 76-72. Temple guard Juan Fernandez promptly drained a straight-on three-pointer to cut the deficit to one, and after McCrea scored in close to put Buffalo up by three again, guard Ramone Moore hit another trey with 23 seconds left and, ultimately, forced the extra period.
Another McCrea layup got Buffalo even for the final time at 85-all with 1:01 left in OT, signaling a wild finish that saw Moore miss a three but Aaron Brown tip the rebound back to Lee, who put it in and sent a crowd of 4,161 home with a late but much-appreciated Christmas present.
"I think it may be a bigger win than Villanova," said Moore, who led Temple with 25 points.
Interestingly, Temple held a 45-44 rebound margin, thanks in large part to its guards selling out and crashing the boards en masse. Other statistics told a different story: Buffalo scored 50 points in the paint to only 32 for the Owls, and the Bulls shot 55.2 percent (32-for-58) from the floor to only 36.4 percent (28-for-77) for the host team.
Temple, however, sank 11 of 28 deep balls, many of which came when most needed. The Owls also forced 21 Buffalo turnovers while giving the ball away only 11 times.
"As long as you find a way to win the game, at the end all that matters is the scoreboard," said Fernandez, who finished with 21 points, six assists and two steals.
Still, he noted, "We know we're shorthanded. We know we're playing with four guards most of the time, and [the Bulls] took advantage of that.
"We relied too much on our three-point shooting. There's a lot of things we have to work on."
In addition to Eric, Temple also is without 6-6 senior forward Scootie Randall, who has not played all season while recovering from offseason knee surgery. With Lee carrying four fouls for much of the second half and overtime, and not playing very effectively when he was on the floor, Dunphy was obliged to stage the comeback with a lineup whose tallest player was the 6-5 Brown.
But Lee came through at the buzzer, absolving himself from a lot of potential recriminations.
"Tonight, I wasn't really there," he said. "My defensive performance was the worst I've had since I've been in college basketball. I wasn't doing the things I'm capable of doing.
"I wanted to make it up to my team, and I'm just so thankful I was able to do that."