While there were some missteps, Temple basically did enough in the majority of its non-league basketball schedule to keep itself in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
The Owls improved to 10-2 with Saturday’s 82-64 win over Drexel at the Palestra and now begin their American Athletic Conference schedule Jan. 2 at preseason favorite Central Florida. From there, 18 of the final 19 games are against AAC opponents, with the one exception being a Jan. 19 home game with Penn.
The two Temple losses have been to a more-than-solid VCU team and defending national champion Villanova.
“We put some wins together, but our play has been subpar; we really haven’ t played our best basketball yet,” said Shizz Alston, who had a game-high 25 points, his third straight game of 23 or more points.
The game marked Temple coach Fran Dunphy’s final with the Owls at the Palestra, and he was given a long standing ovation in the pregame introductions. Dunphy, who will be replaced by associate head coach Aaron McKie after the season, is in agreement with Alston about wanting to see more from the team.
“I am proud of them for their efforts at this point; we have found a way to win 10 of our first 12 games, but we need to play better as we move forward," Dunphy said.
The Owls took their biggest first-half lead when Nate Pierre-Louis hit a running 32-foot three-pointer at the buzzer, extending the margin to 41-30.
Drexel (6-7) wouldn’t go away for the longest time. Guard Troy Harper, who led the Dragons with 18 points, scored on a driving layup to cut Temple’s lead to 60-54 with 8 minutes and 34 seconds left.
Temple then assumed control for good, going on a 7-0 run that began on an Alston corner three-pointer and followed by close-range baskets from Alani Moore and Ernest Aflakpui.
The Dragons, who appear improved from last year’s 13-20 team, had trouble containing Pierre-Louis, a 6-foot-4 sophomore.
In four of the previous five games, Pierre-Louis had scored less than 10 points, but he was more aggressive and had 14 of his season-high 22 points by halftime. In addition, he was guarding Drexel freshman point guard Camren Wynter, a player who has opened some eyes.
If Pierre-Louis is guarding somebody, it’s a true sign of respect since he is the Owls' top defender. Wynter finished with 12 points, but seven turnovers. Moore also spent time guarding Wynter.
“I think he (Pierre-Louis) is a critical part of their success moving forward and he certainly had a big game. And the three at the end of the half was a huge momentum play for them that we didn’t execute on our end,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said.
Also in the first half, Temple junior Quinton Rose became the 54th player in school history to score 1,000 points. Rose finished with 14 points and now has 1,011. Aflakpui added 10 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double this season and fourth of his career.