NEW YORK - It was a bittersweet evening for Obi Enechionyia at Madison Square Garden. The forward set or tied career marks in points (17), rebounds (eight) and blocks (five). That's a stat line to be proud of for a freshman playing on national TV at MSG, but Enechionyia was left to look at his senior teammates, knowing they would never step on the court together again after Temple's disappointing 60-57 loss to Miami last night in the NIT semifinals.
A defensive bruiser off the bench for Temple, Enechionyia nearly carried his team to victory with his post-ups and swats.
"Whenever I start getting going, the confidence goes up. Everything gets a little easier. I was just trying to keep our team in the game, just doing what I could," Enechionyia said following the loss. "Someone had to step up, and I tried to make that me."
While Enechionyia recorded at least three blocks for the sixth time this season, he also finally began to make full use of his 6-8, 220-pound frame offensively, working Miami's big men down low and getting to the charity stripe seven times. He sunk every one of those free throws and displayed some of the two-way potential coach Fran Dunphy hopes to unlock in the coming seasons.
"I thought he was terrific for a freshman to do what he did," Dunphy said. "And not only was he good on the offensive end, he had a number of blocks that sort of saved us. He's got a great future ahead of him."
Enechionyia played his best game of the season, a challenging one for a freshman who had to carve out playing time as a weakside shot-blocker. He also missed three games with a sprained right ankle after celebrating a Feb. 7 win over Memphis.
Enechionyia at least can go into the offeason on a personal high note.
"It's something to build off," he said of his performance. "Having this bad taste from this game and coming back and trying to be more successful next year than we were this year.
"We had a good season. I'm proud of the seniors, but you can always do more. I just want to do more next season."
"We're making Obi look like an All-American," said Miami coach John Larranaga, who recruited Enechionyia out of St. James School in Hagerstown, Md. Enechionyia spurned the Hurricanes' offer and took his talents instead to North Broad Street.
Dunphy knows better than anyone what he has in Enechionyia. The process of developing him, as well as other key underclassmen, such as Quenton DeCosey and Josh Brown, will take only a short respite.
"We'll probably wait about a week, but we'll probably get our underclassmen in the gym and start working a couple of hours a week," Dunphy said. "Which doesn't sound like much, but it gives us a good feel who's gonna step up, who's gonna be a leader, who's gonna really start to work hard.
"We need to get started on next year right away."