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Temple survives Happ, Wisconsin in home opener

12/06/2017, 11:00pm EST
By Zach Drapkin

Obi Enechionyia (above) and Temple fought their way past Wisconsin on Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)

Temple knew it would have to deal Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ on Wednesday night in order to come away with a win against its Big Ten opponent.

Happ, a third-team All-American selection by the Associated Press last season, came into the game leading the Badgers in points (15.4 ppg), rebounds (8.9 rpg), and assists (3.0 apg), and he had the Owls’ number for 35 minutes.

Down the stretch, however, Obi Enechionyia shut Wisconsin’s 6-foot-10 big man down as Temple closed out a 59-55 win in their Liacouras Center home opener.

With five minutes to go, down 53-50, Temple head coach Fran Dunphy decided to switch to a smaller lineup, putting Enechionyia at the ‘5’ to guard Happ, whose six straight points against a combination of bigs Ernest Aflakpui and Damion Moore had sparked a 12-3 Wisconsin run.

“That was just an adjustment made at the end,” Enechionyia said. “Coach did a good job of recognizing that and seeing that I could guard him.”

The plan worked to perfection, as Enechionyia frustrated Happ inside for the rest of the game. Happ scored 23 points in the first 35 minutes. He didn’t score again.

Enechionyia’s jump-hook with 2:23 remaining cut Wisconsin’s lead to one, and on the other end, Temple’s 6-10 senior swatted away a Happ finish to ignite the Owls’ attack.

“I just did what I could do stay straight up and contest every shot to the best of my ability,” Enechionyia said. “I stayed down, kept my hands straight up, just tried to guard him the best I could.”

After Quinton Rose drew a foul and split a pair from the line, the game was tied at 55 with exactly two minutes to play.

The Badgers threw it right back inside to Happ, who was stuffed again by Enechionyia, and on the ensuing possession, an Enechionyia offensive rebound allowed Shizz Alston Jr. to get to the line for two free throws which gave Temple the lead.

Happ hit the front rim on the next series, and when Wisconsin got the ball back, still down two, with 27.6 seconds remaining, they didn’t go back to their All-American.

Instead, Kobe King’s 3-pointer bounced out, giving Temple possession and a pair of free throws with five seconds left. Alston converted twice more from the line, giving him a team-high 22 points, and a half-court miss sealed the result.

The win is another quality result for Temple, which started the season by winning the Charleston Classic and took down South Carolina at Madison Square Garden last week.

After a loss to George Washington on Sunday in which the Colonials shot 60 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range, the Owls held Wisconsin’s offense in check. The Badgers finished 23-of-56 (41 percent) from the field and 5-of-20 (25 percent) from deep.

Enechionyia played a big part in Temple’s defensive gameplan, finishing with a game-high four blocks to go along with his 11 points and seven rebounds.

“We focused on [defense] all week after George Washington,” he said. “We knew we had to step up on that end and stop guys, which we didn’t do on Sunday. That was an emphasis all week and we worked.”

The Owls honored Enechionyia before the game for reaching 1,000 career points, but another milestone was set on Wednesday night, as Alston passed Lynn Greer for most consecutive made free throws. Alston’s final four makes from the line, which decided the game, put him at 52 straight, passing Greer’s 49.

Outside of Alston, Temple struggled from the line, with the rest of the team combining to go 2-of-9 on foul shots. In a game with 16 lead changes, it nearly cost the Owls, but the team’s tough defense down the stretch made up for their lackluster performance at the stripe.

“Other than Shizz, we were 2-for-9, which can’t happen in this kind of a game,” Dunphy said.

Rose, who came in as the team’s leading scorer, went just 1-of-4 from the line and finished with nine points, three steals, and two turnovers. Josh Brown had 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals, but gave the ball away four times.

Brown actually sat out a chunk of the second half after Brevin Pritzl’s elbow connected with the 6-3 senior’s nose three minutes into the frame, a play which drew a flagrant 1 foul. After bloodying up his usual No. 1 jersey, he iced his nose for a bit, changed into a nameless No. 14 top, and came back in with 11:43 remaining.

The Owls were happy to have Brown on the court in the later minutes, when he scored a putback to cut a Wisconsin lead to one with just over four minutes to play and provide Temple with a spark of momentum.

Temple closed the game on a 9-2 run, which spanned the final five minutes of the game.

Happ led Wisconsin with a game-high 23 points on 11-of-19 field goal shooting, also racking up six rebounds, three assists, and three giveaways. No other Badgers player was in double-digits.

Game two of Temple’s four-game home stretch is on Saturday, Dec. 9, against Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s. Tipoff for that matchup is at 2:30 p.m.

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