NEW YORK - Temple went to Brooklyn for the Thanksgiving holiday with a boatload of questions. After two wins over ranked teams in games with wild swings, the Owls found out about their mental toughness and ability to produce in the clutch.
After leading by 20 points at halftime then squandering all of the lead with less than nine minutes remaining, Temple defeated No. 19 West Virginia, 81-77, in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game Friday at Barclays Center.
On Thursday Temple overcame an 18-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 25 Florida State, 89-86.
"I am so proud of our guys to have weathered that storm and finish the game in a great, great fashion," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose team improved to 4-2.
Junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who was named the tournament MVP, had 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots while hitting 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 7 from three-point range.
In the two games he averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.5 blocked shots.
"As a team we were poised enough to get the lead back and keep the lead, and I think is says a lot about our guys, especially the freshmen," Enechionyia said.
He was referring to guards Alani Moore and Quinton Rose.
Moore, who scored in double figures for the first time in his career, had 18 points and, more impressive, hit all eight of his foul shots, all in the second half.
"I stayed with my normal routine, stayed focused, locked in, and just made the shots," Moore said.
In addition, the 6-8 Rose had 12 points a day after scoring 26 against Florida State.
Temple swingman Daniel Dingle, who had 15 points and five rebounds, also made the all-tournament team.
West Virginia (4-1) was led by Esa Ahmad with 19 points. The Mountaineers had been causing 26.2 turnovers per game and forced Temple into 19.
Temple's Shizz Alston had eight points and six assists and only two turnovers against the swarming defense.
"They did a good job of not panicking when we trapped," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "... They put four guys on the floor who handle the ball pretty well."
The Mountaineers took their first second-half lead, 65-64, when Tarik Phillip made one of two free throws with 8 minutes, 16 seconds left.
The game went back and forth from there.
Enechionyia, who picked up three quick fouls to begin the second half, took his first shot of the second half with 5:25 left, making a three-pointer to extend Temple's lead to 73-69.
"That was a big shot for them," Huggins said.
West Virginia got to within 78-77 on Teyvon Myers' driving layup with 1:09 left.
Enechionyia missed a pull-up jumper, but the 5-foot-10 Moore got the offensive rebound with 37 seconds left.
Moore was fouled with 14.1 seconds remaining and made both free throws, making it 80-77. Myers then forced a jumper that was blocked by Alston
Enechionyia got the rebound, was fouled, and made one of two to complete the scoring.
West Virginia looked as if it wanted to run the Owls out of the building from the beginning, applying relentless pressure and scoring the first seven points.
Temple quickly got used to the frenetic pace and made its own statement by scoring the next 13 points.
The Owls didn't let up from there. Enechionyia had 18 first-half points to lead the surge. Temple then held on in the second half to beat ranked teams in consecutive games for the first time since March 16 and 18 in the 2001 NCAA tournament, when the Owls defeated No. 18 Texas and No. 8 Florida.
"Anytime you do that it is huge, especially a young team," Enechionyia said of beating ranked teams. "So knowing we can beat anyone is big for us."