Justin Procope (@1procope)
Prior to Wednesday night’s wild three-overtime Big 5 win, Taj Thweatt had only logged two stats in six minutes of play for the Temple Owls this season: three fouls and a missed 3-pointer. In the instant classic win over La Salle, he put up four points (2-3 FG), two rebounds, and a blocked shot in almost eight minutes of play — despite not checking into the game until the second of three overtimes.
Thweatt’s energy on the interior was instrumental to Temple’s victory, his effort just one example of the unlikely players who stepped up when it mattered to help clinch the Owls’ spot in the Big 5 Championship game.
Temple's, from left, Quante Berry, Jordan Riley, Sam Hofman and Matteo Picarelli were among the many contributors for the Owls in their win over La Salle. (Photo: Anthony Pompili/CoBL)
Redshirt freshman Deuce Roberts tripled his season minutes in the third overtime tonight, playing three minutes, grabbing an offensive rebound. Another redshirt freshman, Quante Berry played important minutes down the stretch, contributing 13 points, 4 rebounds, and a big block down the stretch to keep La Salle at arm’s length. Junior Shane Dezonie also played 15 minutes all in the overtime periods, racking up five points and five important rebounds, three of them offensive.
“We’re just so resilient,” Temple head coach Adam Fisher said. “We always talk about how it’s a boxing match, we have to go all rounds. “I’m so proud of all the guys that haven’t seen a ton of minutes who came in and made huge plays.”
The Owls came into the game shorthanded as forward and leading rebounder Jahlil White (14 ppg, 8 rpg) was slated to miss his second straight game with a hand injury, with no timetable on his return. Once Jordan Riley (16 pts), Hysier Miller (20 pts), and Sam Hofman (11 rebs) fouled out of the contest in overtime, a win seemed unlikely. After starting the first overtime period seemingly zapped of all their energy and spirit, the bench mob of Temple were able to rally and carry the Owls over the finish line.
“That’s being a team, that’s 14 guys,” Fisher said. “We have guys who fouled out cheering these guys on. They believe in them.”
The player leading that charge was redshirt junior forward Steve Settle III, who played a team-high 50 minutes Wednesday night.
The 6-10 Settle, who missed last Wednesday’s game against Ole Miss with an undisclosed injury, finished with 19 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
His biggest contribution to the win came in the first extra period, when he nailed a contested three pointer, his second of the night to send the game to its second overtime.
“The last game we played he had a great look and everybody on the team told him to shoot that 10 times out of 10, so I’m proud he came back and showed me that resiliency to be ready there,” Fisher said.
Defensively, Settle was just as impressive. He finished with two blocked shots and zero fouls and was disruptive all night with his length and activity.
“For me it was just about getting healthy, I’m always going to play as hard as I can when I can,” Settle said.
Zion Stanford was another valuable piece off the bench for the Owls all game. The freshman from West Catholic finished with 15 points (6-10) and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes. Coming off a 14-point performance in his last game against Ole Miss, Stanford is proving a reliable option for Fisher thanks to his athleticism and scoring ability.
It is a huge statement for a roster that had many question marks entering the season, as their top four scorers all transferred following the departure of former head coach Aaron Mckie. With six players finishing in double digit scoring, that depth suddenly looks like a strength.
That depth and resolve will be tested again in a showdown with St. Joe’s for the Big 5 Championship this Saturday.
“It’s going to be fun, but that’s the atmosphere you want,” said Fisher. “It’s an NCAA tournament type atmosphere. It’s not often you get to play for a championship, so we’re excited and we got to get ready to go.”