The road to the A-10 title has always gone through Temple. But the question following Butler's 83…
Sans Glue, Owls Survive
Without RHJ, who was resting a bruised knee, Temple nearly came apart against a three-win Penn team Wednesday night. Khalif Wyatt eventually saved the day as the Owls secured a 76-69 victory.
But it was clear to everyone who watched the nip-and-tuck battle at The Liacouras Center: the Owls won't be able to patch together too many wins without the glue back in their lineup.
Hollis-Jefferson's knee has been troublesome for much of January. Coach Fran Dunphy held him out of the starting lineup in last week's game at George Washington, but he still played his usual 30-plus minutes against the Colonials, and didn't get a break in this past weekend's attention-grabbing loss to St. Bonaventure.
Against the struggling, undermanned Quakers -- RPI-rated among the bottom 50 teams (out of 347) in Division I -- Dunphy opted to give Hollis-Jefferson the night off.
If any opponent on the schedule could be beaten with sticky tape, thumb tacks, and paper clips -- sans glue -- it was the Big 5 team Dunphy piloted for 17 years.
And that's exactly what happened, despite ...
-- Despite another soft, disjointed defensive effort, especially in the paint. Penn freshman big man Darien Nelson-Henry scored 17 points.
-- Despite a meandering offense that only found success when Wyatt went one-on-five -- and prevailed. Wyatt finished with 26 points and five assists.
It's a given that Hollis-Jefferson is Temple's best defender. He's typically assigned to the opponent's best player. He's the only guy on the roster (and one of the few in college basketball) who can legitimately defend all five positions. And he also leads the Owls in steals and blocked shots. (And offensive rebounds, so he's got every hustle stat covered.)
But RHJ is just as valuable to the Owls' offense.
It's no coincidence that they struggled so mightily at the start against GW. With Hollis-Jefferson on the bench, there was nobody to flash to the high post and make a quick, decisive pass, or cut to the basket for an open look. And the Owls scored two points in the first six minutes.
He averages just 8.3 points per game, and his shooting percentage has dipped this season. But Wyatt is the only guy who's more valuable when the Owls have the ball.
Hollis-Jefferson ranks second on the team (behind Wyatt) averaging 3.3 assists per game. That's a nice number, though it might be argued that he ranks second only because Will Cummings and T.J. Dileo share the point guard position. Hollis-Jefferson plays 32 minutes a game, while Cummings plays 23 and DiLeo plays 20.
Except here's the thing -- heading into last night's game, RHJ had more assists (56) than Cummings and DiLeo put together (54).
And it should be noted, while shot selection has often been an issue for the Owls this season, Hollis-Jefferson hasn't attempted a single three-pointer. While some of his veteran teammates (Wyatt, Scootie Randall, and Anthony Lee) sometimes shoot too quickly, and others (Cummings and DiLeo) bypass open shots, Hollis-Jefferson almost always takes the right shot at the right time.
Now he just needs to make more of them.
That will particularly be true Saturday when the Owls travel to Butler, where they'll have the opportunity to score another big win over a Top 10 team.
The official word after the win over Penn was that Hollis-Jefferson's status was undetermined for this weekend's game. But you can be sure -- after playing 30-plus minutes with a sore knee in every other January game prior to Wednesday night -- the glue will be back for this one.
And that gives the Owls a much better chance to keep it together.
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