By Julie Glass
Just call the Temple Owls the Champions of Brooklyn!
Obi Enechionyia and his Temple teammates beat two Top 25 teams to win the NIT Season Tip-Off.
“It’s a confidence boost,” Enechionyia said yesterday after he had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead Temple to an 81-77 upset of No. 19 West Virginia in the championship game.
“We beat two ranked teams this weekend. Any time you can do that, it’s huge for a team,” Enechionyia added. “Knowing that we can beat anyone, I think that’s big for us.”
Enechionyia scored 18 points in the first half for Temple (4-2) but it was his free throw with 1 second left that sealed the championship for the Owls.
Enechionyia was named the Most Outstanding Player of the two-day tournament.
Alain Moore II added 18 points for the Owls, while Daniel Dingle finished with 15 and Quinton Rose 12.
Esa Ahmad had 19 points for West Virginia (4-1) while Teyvon Myers added 15 and Nathan Adrian and Tarik Phillip had 13 apiece.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins’ critique of his team’s performance was laced with frustration.
“We didn’t guard,” Huggins said. “We didn’t guard the way we’re capable of guarding. Our help defense was atrocious. We fouled too much. We didn’t make free throws. We missed open shots. We missed 17 layups. Seventeen point-blank shots. We shot 61 percent from the free throw line. We work our butt off to try to get people to turn it over. They turn it over 19 times and we give it back to them 16.”
Temple led 45-25 at halftime due to two extended stretches in which the Owls held the Mountaineers without a point.
Following Phillip’s layup 1:29 into the game, West Virginia did not score for 5:28 until Adrian’s layup at 13:09. During that stretch, the Owls outscored the Mountaineers 13-0. Then, after Ahmad’s layup with 5:28 left in the half, Temple scored the next nine points until Phillips knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to 38-23.
The Owls held West Virginia to 32.3 percent shooting from the field, including 27.3 percent from 3-point range in the first half. Temple forced West Virginia into 11 first-half turnovers.
“We don’t do a good job of finding open guys,” Huggins said. “We have consistently shot very, very poorly.”
West Virginia finished with 16 turnovers while misfiring on 38 of 67 shots from the field.
Trailing by 20, West Virginia ratcheted up its trademark press defense in the second half. Phillips drilled a 3 right in front of the Mountaineers bench that caused Temple coach Fran Dunphy to call time out with 11:31 left, West Virginia was credited with nine forced turnovers in 8 1/2 minutes.
“You knew they were going to make their run,” Dunphy said. “I didn’t anticipate that we were going to have that kind of cushion throughout the second half. I was just hoping it (wouldn’t) dissipate as quickly as it did.”
The timeout did not stem West Virginia as the Mountaineers scored 13 of the next 17 points to take a 65-64 lead. It was their first lead since opening the game on a 7-0 run. A layup by Ahmad made it 67-64.
“The game was so crazy in the second half. They don’t let you run any kind of offense,” Dunphy said. “It was just a crazed style of game in the second half.”
But Temple would not go away.
The Owls took a 75-71 lead on the strength of an 11-4 run spanning 2:36. Moore made four free throws in the stretch, and Rose added two free throws and a jumper.
The final 4:44 saw Moore play a pivotal role. The 5-foot-10 guard grabbed three rebounds and made two free throws to set the stage for Enechionyia.