IT WAS PRETTY much assumed that once Temple finally got whole, things were going to get better.
What wasn't known was by how much, and how quickly?
Well, last night at the Wells Fargo Center, in the Owls' second game since transfer guards Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman became eligible, we might have an early indication.
In the kind of game that could keep on giving right up to Selection Sunday, the Owls (8-4) smoked 10th-ranked Kansas, 77-52, then joined their fans who stormed the court in celebration.
It was the sixth time in seven seasons that the Owls have knocked off a Top 10 opponent. The previous five times they did it, they made it to the NCAA Tournament. And at the moment, the American Conference in which they were picked to finish sixth looks like it might be a little more up for grabs than most anticipated. Or maybe even a lot.
"There's a long way to go," said coach Fran Dunphy. "They're getting it. Everyone's got to perform their roles. This was an example of everyone sacrificing. It was our night. We beat a good program. The kids decided they were going to play about as good as they can.
"You're always hoping you can do it again. I'd love to tell you the secret, but I have no clue. You have to keep it in perspective. We talked about it. Anything can happen in this game . . . You want it to be a starting point, for us to appreciate the team we can be."
Eight days earlier, in its last game without Morgan and Coleman, Temple lost at No. 7 Villanova by 23.
"That was embarrassing," said senior lead guard and captain Will Cummings. "We got outworked. That can't happen. We said that before this game. You just have to learn from all things, and build on them. That's the only way you grow.
"We're in this together. When we're clicking on all cylinders, you see what we can do. We're just having fun out there."
The Jayhawks (9-2) had won eight straight since a 72-40 loss to Kentucky on Nov. 18. They'd beaten three ranked teams since then. But they never really had a chance in this one. The Owls were up 10 at intermission. Kansas quickly got it down to six before the Owls responded with a 15-4 run from which there would be no coming back. They led by 30 with a minute to go.
"We turned it over a ton [17 total, 13 in the first half], and when we got it inside we didn't finish," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "They were so active. They do a lot of things that good defensive teams do. But we didn't help ourselves much, either. The only reason we were even in the game was because Frank [Mason III] made those [three] threes in the first half.
"Their guards are so good and quick. They've got five, and they're all legit. I was very impressed to watch them play."
But did he know much about Dunphy's latest additions?
"I knew enough," Self said.
And now he knows even more.
The Owls, who shot 28-for-48, got 19 points from Cummings (5-for-8, 7-for-7 at the foul line), 18 from Quenton DeCosey (7-for-9) and 17 from Morgan (5-for-10, 3-for-8 from the arc). But it was more than just the scoring, as Self noted. The Owls seemed to get just enough from everybody, which is what good teams do.
Jaylen Bond, another transfer, had 10 rebounds and three steals in a team-high 35 minutes. He got decent help inside from Devontae Watson, even if his stats didn't necessarily say as much. And Coleman, despite getting only 14 minutes, went 2-for-3 with two assists and a steal.
Kansas got 20 from Mason, five more than his previous career high. But nobody else had more than nine. Perry Ellis, the top scorer and rebounder, had five points on 1-for-10 shooting and three boards. The Jayhawks have been beating teams off the glass by an average of over seven. This time Temple had three more.
Next up for the Owls is Delaware State (5-7) - which did win late last month at Wake Forest - on Sunday at the Liacouras Center. It's the Owls' last nonconference game. Their American opener is New Year's Eve, at defending national champion Connecticut (5-4), which has had its ups and downs.
"We have to build off this defensive effort," said Dunphy. "That's what we have to hang our hats on a little bit. I think we can score.
"Any time you get some separation against a team like this, you're doing something right."
"This just adds to our confidence," Cummings added. "Especially the young guys. It lets them know that we're capable of doing anything, really."
Dunphy said it might be a bit of an adventure trying to incorporate his two new guys into the rotation.
Or maybe not.
"They've been playing with us for so long [in practice], it's not really a big deal now that they're in the games," Cummings said. "They're players. They know what to do. It's nothing new to them."
Even if it looks different to everyone else.