Greene’s late three-pointer drops Temple

Senior guard Javon Greene scored just six points in Monday’s win, but his late three-pointer gave the Bulls the lead for good. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Senior guard Javon Greene came to the rescue with a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds as USF men’s basketball bested Temple 52-49 at the Yuengling Center on Monday.

“Javon picked a hell of a time to make his first shot in three games. No doubt about that,” coach Brian Gregory said.

For nearly 40 minutes, the Bulls (7-14, 2-7 AAC) couldn’t sink a single three-point shot. Eleven shots went up from beyond the arc and each rattled off the rim.

Down by two points with under 30 seconds remaining, Greene capitalized on a loose ball scramble and found a couple feet of open space right in front of the USF bench to knock down the biggest shot of the contest.

“Next play mentality. Next shot mentality,” Greene said. “That was the biggest shot of the game and that’s the only shot I hit. Got to keep that confidence. That’s what I did and my teammates trusted me. Couldn’t get a better opportunity than that.”

Similar to his last game-winning shot against North Carolina A&T on Nov. 15, Greene’s heroic three-pointer was his first of the game. He attributed the stroke of fortune to his bright orange sneakers, the same he wore against the Aggies in November.

“I think it’s the shoes, I wore the same pair [against NCAT], these are my good luck shoes,” he joked. “The Donovan Mitchell’s, these are my favorite.”

The Bulls were seconds away from snapping a 202-game streak with at least one three-pointer made, a run that dates back to a November 2015 loss against Boston University.

Struggling to hit three-pointers for much of the game, scoring inside became a point of focus for the Bulls. The team tallied 30 points in the paint, led by sophomore guard Jamir Chaplin’s 14 points and sophomore center Russel Tchewa’s 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting. 

Tchewa’s scoring coupled with his defensive contributions, both inside the paint and on the perimeter, garnered praise from Gregory postgame.

“He’s growing and getting better, I thought he was tremendous,” Gregory said. “He’s a tremendous defensive player 15 feet and out. He’s unbelievable on ball screens. 

“He guarded [Temple guard Damien Dunn] two or three times on the isolation and did a really good job on him. He had a much more of a rim presence defensively today as well. So I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s playing right now.” 

Freshman forward Corey Walker Jr. emphasized the team’s confidence in Tchewa’s inside game, setting the tone for an offense focused on scoring around the rim.

“We’re big on trust, just trusting in Russ as much as possible,” he said. “We know he’s big, he’s 7-foot, humongous. We just got to feed it to him and let him do what he do.” 

To call Monday night a defensive struggle would be an understatement. Neither team shot better than 40% from the field nor led by more than six points at any point in the ballgame.

Eight ties and six lead changes meant a back and forth contest. With scoring at a premium, active and tenacious defense shouldered the load.

“We had to match their physicality and play with great intensity and we did that on the defensive end, forcing 18 turnovers,” Gregory said. “They didn’t get as many shots up on the rim because our defense was really, really active.”

Walker credited hard hours in the gym for the team’s defensive prowess.

“The last two days of practice we focused on playing defense, getting stops for us to be in the game, because defense wins championships,” he said. “Defense wins a lot. So if we can lock down and play defense and make them have 18 turnovers, we can pretty much do whatever we want.”

Monday’s win is a good start for the Bulls’ congested schedule over the next two weeks with five games to play in just 11 days.

Greene, as one of the leading voices in the locker room, is taking it upon himself to make sure his teammates don’t overwork themselves during this stretch.

“We’ve just got to take it as professionals,” he said. “Take care of our bodies. Be smart about it. Not to stay in the gym five hours because we got a game the next day.”

The limited practice time will be a welcome change for his players, according to Gregory.

“Film work, walkthroughs, individual meetings and then a lot of cold tubs,” he said. “You got to get your rest and then you got to lace them up and go out there and compete at the same level. That’s the challenge. 

“Guys love games, coaches love practice. So the guys win out over the next 11 days.”

The Bulls will play the second leg of a two-game homestand Wednesday when they host Cincinnati. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+ and iHeart Radio Bulls Unlimited.