YOU CAN always tell when Fran Dunphy is not happy with something he sees on a basketball court. It could be the play of his team. It could be an official. The Temple coach claps his hands four or five times within a second. He grimaces. Sometimes, his face gets red. It was all there in the first half at the Liacouras Center on Monday night. And Dunphy did not appear to be displeased with the officiating.
His team, with three senior starters who have won a lot of games together, has been winning this season. But it has not been winning like Temple teams of recent vintage.
After leading overmatched Alcorn State at the half by only two points, Temple pulled away to win, 63-46. There is winning. And there is winning the right way.
"We haven't found the way we need to play in order to win basketball games on a consistent basis," Dunphy said.
The game was the first of three this week (Wednesday vs. Canisius, Saturday against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden), all part of the Gotham Classic. The competition will get progressively better. The coach understands his team will need to get better to match it.
"Sometimes, we get caught in between being very kind and considerate to our teammates to shooting a little bit too quickly," Dunphy said. "We haven't found a great rhythm. Other than the second half of Villanova, we just haven't had a great rhythm to our game."
Alcorn State (2-8) has one Division I win. The Braves do the best they can with what they have, but they are up against it in every way - resources, tradition, facilities. Still, only 2 days after losing, 97-59, at Arkansas, they gave the effort. But they had more turnovers (18) than field goals (17) and had more shots (50) than points.
This was really not a big secret. Temple (8-1) simply has better players. Khalif Wyatt had a game-high 20 and got his 1,000th career point in the second half. On a night center Anthony Lee sat out with an illness, three other starters got double figures. Freshman big man Devontae Watson, who had played only 2 minutes on the season, had four points, four rebounds and three blocks in 5 first-half minutes.
So what are we to make of the Owls? Their wins have come against teams that are a combined 31-50. Their loss was against No. 1 Duke.
"We don't make the schedule," Wyatt said. "We just go out and play. The teams we're playing aren't that bad."
True enough. The Owls have won three true road games. They did show that flash at Villanova.
Historically, Dunphy's Temple teams have been much better in January and February than November and December. And 8-1, as the coach pointed out, is better than the alternative.
Wyatt and Scootie Randall have not shot it well so far this season, but history says they will shoot it well over time.
"We have to recognize what's a good play and what is something we shouldn't do," Dunphy said.
What they will do is play through Wyatt, a born scorer.
"He's a really good basketball player, but I don't think he's playing at the top of his game at this point," Dunphy said. "I'm hoping that's coming together for him."
Nine games in the season's first 5 weeks is not a lot these days. Now, the Owls will be playing more regularly, four games between Wednesday and Dec. 31, eight in 24 days during January.
"We're definitely not playing our best basketball right now," Wyatt said. "We're practicing every day . . . Eventually, we'll get into our groove and we'll get into a constant playing schedule. We'll adjust and we'll start playing our best basketball."
Recent history suggests it will be so. It is still early. But that does not mean the coach won't be making the same demands, won't let everybody know just how he feels without ever saying a word.