Former NBA superstar Hakeem Olajuwon is Nigerian. So is Temple’s 6-11 junior center, Micheal Eric.
Until this afternoon, no one had thought to mention Eric in the same breath with “The Dream,” at least on offense. It isn’t apt to happen often; Eric came into the game against Akron averaging 6.6 points, with a season high of 14. His low-post moves are, shall we say, still evolving.
But in the Owls’ 82-47 romp past the Zips at the Liacouras Center, Eric dropped hints that he could yet become as much a factor as a scorer as he is on the defensive end, where he joins with 6-9 senior forward Lavoy Allen to form a formidable rebounding/shot-blocking tandem for coach Fran Dunphy’s 6-2 bunch.
Eric - who finished with 16 points - matched his season high in Temple’s near-perfect first half, which saw the Owls go on runs of 20-4 and 16-0 to take a 40-15 lead into intermission. There he was, tossing in jump-hooks, powering inside for easy baskets, knocking down a turnaround jumper in the lane and even wheeling around a startled defender for a shake-and-bake layup along the baseline. For good measure, he also blocked three shots, grabbed three rebounds and handed out an assist in the 16 minutes he was on the floor.
If Olajuwon had been in the audience, he might have offered Eric a congratulatory handshake for doing their home country proud.
But Eric wasn’t the only Owl to have his way with the Zips, a good mid-major team that came in with a 4-2 record but, more importantly, riding a streak of five straight 20-victory seasons. Akron is probably a decent bet to crack the 20-win club again, but it wouldn’t be if coach Keith Dambrot’s team played Temple, or teams like it, too often - at least on a day when the for-now unranked Owls are locked in and playing like the top 25 outfit everyone expected them to be this season, and where they very well could finish when all is said and done.
The Owls’ lead rose to 40 points late in the second half, which got whittled down a mite as Dunphy cleared his bench in the closing minutes.
Not that Temple is as well-oiled a machine as Dunphy would like. Oh, sure, that 68-65 upset of 10th-ranked Georgetown on Thursday was something to build on, but junior point guard Juan Fernandez continues to seek the comfort zone that enabled him to top the Atlantic 10 Conference in three-point percentage (45.3) last season, when he burned Villanova for a career-high 33 points and was named and was named the Outstanding Player of the 2010 A-10 Tournament, which Temple won.
Fernandez swished his 100th career “three” with 12 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the game, but the Argentine sharpshooter’s deep ball has largely been missing to date. He was one for three from beyond the arc against the Zips, making him nine for 39 (23 percent) on the year. For Temple to be all that it can be, he’ll have to rediscover long-range stroke.
Aaron Brown (13), Scootie Randall (12) and Ramone Moore (10) also scored in double digits for the Owls, while Steve McNees and Alex Abreu led the Zips with 11 apiece.