Temple is no longer flying under the radar in Philadelphia, and it may be on the verge of some national acclaim because of its defense.
The No. 19 Owls look to continue their solid play when they host Massachusetts on Saturday in a battle of Atlantic 10 rivals.
After being pounded by then-No. 1 Kansas 84-52 on Jan. 2, the Owls (14-3, 2-0) have won three straight and 10 of 11. Temple earned a 60-45 victory over intracity rival Pennsylvania on Wednesday, limiting the Quakers to 37.5 percent shooting while forcing 17 turnovers.
The win held special significance for Fran Dunphy, who coached Penn for 17 seasons before taking over at Temple in 2006. One of his former players there - two-time Ivy League player of the year Jerome Allen - is currently in charge of the Quakers.
“To play against Penn is a difficult thing for me because of all the meaning that is within this building, within the program and all the years I’ve spent there,” said Dunphy, whose team also upset then-No. 3 Villanova. “Then I’ve got to look down at the other end of the bench and there’s Jerome Allen who meant so much to me as a basketball player at Penn.”
If the Owls are going to make a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, it will be on the strength of their defense. Temple is among the stingiest teams in the nation, yielding an Atlantic 10-low 55.5 points per game. The Owls also lead the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 37.3 and 3-point field-goal percentage defense at 24.9.
They have held opponents to 35.3 percent shooting - 21.8 percent from 3-point range - during their winning streak.
“We just have to be aware that we’re a team that everybody’s looking forward to playing,” said guard Ryan Brooks, who is 14 points shy of becoming the 45th Temple player to reach 1,000. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position right now.”
Massachusetts (7-9, 1-2) is trying to regroup from a 70-63 overtime defeat at Richmond on Wednesday. Freshman Freddie Riley hit five 3-pointers and scored 20 points, but the Minutemen were dominated by Spiders forward Darrius Garrett, who blocked 14 shots.
“We’ve been playing harder and harder as our young kids mature and the next step is to figure out a way to win,” coach Derek Kellogg said. “I’m proud of our guys, but I’m not happy because we didn’t win.”
Riley scored at least 20 points in the last two games while making 11 of 24 from 3-point range. He had made a total of 10 3-pointers in his previous five games.
Temple has won seven straight at home versus UMass since a 65-64 overtime defeat Jan. 27, 2001. The Minutemen, though, won 79-75 in the only meeting last season Jan. 17.