Turning back the clock
Bulls can't overcome cold start, fall to Owls at home
Men's basketball head coach Reggie Witherspoon struggled to find a way to quantify this latest loss, before coming up with this statement: "It obviously wasn't a beauty contest."
In a season in which Witherspoon's team is still trying to find its way on offense, things hit a new low Wednesday night. Buffalo (2-6) couldn't overcome a frigid start, as Temple (4-0) won 54-39 at Alumni Arena.
The Owls dominated the game from start to finish, as Buffalo could not find a way to penetrate Temple's swarming defense. The Bulls started off shooting an abysmal 3 for 22 from the field en route to their worst scoring night in nearly 10 years.
The 39 points were the lowest since Feb. 22, 2003, when the Bulls only scored 35 points against Mid-American Conference rival Miami, also at home.
"In order for us to succeed, we were going to have to win it in a blue-collar way, and we're not ready to confront in a physical way," Witherspoon said. "I think they were more physical than we were."
It was a far cry from last year's game, in which both teams combined for 171 points in a double-overtime matchup that Temple won. This time around, the Owls made it tough for Buffalo's big-man tandem of junior Javon McCrea and sophomore Will Regan to get quality looks at the basket, instead forcing outside shooters to beat them from deep.
Although Regan and McCrea eventually had decent performances - McCrea finished with a game-high 14 points and Regan had nine - no perimeter player had more than one made basket on the night, and the forwards worked for every basket due to the Owls' defense.
"As one of the many perimeter [players] on our team, I just think we have to be better overall," said senior guard Tony Watson. "I think as a perimeter player, we have to be able to shoot, especially in our offense. When a team allows [us] to shoot them, and we don't shoot the ball or we're missing shots, it puts a lot of pressure on other players on the team, especially post players."
On Temple's side of things, the coaching staff praised its defensive game plan.
"I thought we did a really good job on that," said Temple head coach Fran Dunphy on his team's defensive effort. "I thought our wings did a good job on pinching, avoiding some quick post feeding."
Despite the struggles on offense, the Bulls' 'D' contained Temple as long as it could, holding the Owls to a season-low 35 percent from the field and 22 percent in the second half, as Buffalo desperately tried to chip away at Temple's 31-16 halftime lead. Even though the scoring lagged, the Bulls got within reach when McCrea made a driving layup and got fouled, bringing the deficit to 11 early in the second half.
But missed opportunities continued to dog Buffalo, and the Owls eventually made enough plays to secure the win. Those opportunities came in two areas, according to Witherspoon: offensive rebounding and free-throw shooting. The Bulls, normally a great rebounding unit, only had six offensive rebounds as they were outmuscled on the boards for the first time all season. Temple won the battle of the glass, 38-30.
The Bulls only attempted three free throws all game: two of them on a Flagarant-1 foul, when Regan was hit in the forehead. He stayed off the court bloodied for a few moments.
"The most frustrating thing is the number of times we got the ball in the paint and came out with not a foul or a basket," Witherspoon said. "And I don't think they fouled us. I just think they took the ball out of our hands."
The Bulls now stand with two wins in eight games and only one against Division I competition - a 65-60 win versus Evansville (4-2). With a young team learning to play and go through tough times together, Witherspoon stresses patience as the athletes find their way offensively.
"We have some lessons that we're going to have to learn the hard way," Witherspoon said.
The Bulls hope to turn it around as they travel to take on Big 4 rival St. Bonaventure (3-2) at the Reilly Center in Olean, N.Y. on Saturday. The Bonnies won the matchup 66-60 in Alumni Arena last year, powered by Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson's 23 points and eight rebounds. The rivalry will get underway at 7 p.m.