The last time Temple 6-foot-10 senior Obi Enechionyia played at Madison Square Garden, he left a lasting impression.
It was the final game of his freshman season in an NIT semifinal that the Owls would lose, 60-57 to Miami. In 27 minutes, he scored a then-career-high 17 points and tied his career high with eight rebounds. Enechionyia hit 5 of 9 field goals and all seven of his free throws.
Those memories have come up this week because Enechionyia and Temple will return to the Garden on Thursday for the first time since that semifinal defeat. The Owls (3-1) will face Final Four participant South Carolina (5-1) in the second part of the Under Armour Reunion doubleheader at 9 p.m. The first game, at 6:30, will feature Texas Tech against Seton Hall.
“That was my best game my freshman year,” Enechionyia said before Tuesday’s practice about the NIT semifinal. “I had good memories, we lost, but it was a good performance.”
MSG is among the most magical arenas, where even NBA players can get caught up in the mystique.
“There is a lot of history involved and it is one of the greatest arenas in the country — in the world, really,” said Enechionyia, who has 1,014 career points after scoring 16 in Sunday’s 87-83 loss at La Salle. “It was always a dream to play there, and I got to live that dream my freshman year and it’s great to be able to do it again.”
In Sunday’s loss, Temple squandered an 11-point lead nearly midway through the second half. The Owls committed 13 turnovers, not an overly high total, but it looked much worse when compared to La Salle’s four.
Sophomore swingman Quinton Rose had 21 points, but also committed five of the turnovers. Rose, who played at Bishop Kearney in Rochester, N.Y., says he will have 15-20 friends and family at the Garden.
“It will definitely be a big deal playing there,” he said.
Redshirt senior guard Josh Brown, who grew up in Newark, N.J., and played at fabled St. Anthony of Jersey City, says Temple can’t be too caught up in the aura of the Garden.
“A lot of all-time greats played there and that goes through your head before the game, but once the ball is thrown up in the air, it is just basketball,” Brown said.
South Carolina, which has won three in a row since its only loss, to Illinois State, had to replace three starters from last year’s Final Four team, including Southeastern Conference player of the year Sindarius Thornwell, now with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Gamecocks’ leading player is junior forward Chris Silva, a graduate of New Jersey’s Roselle Catholic. He leads the team in both scoring (14.0 ppg.) and rebounding (8.0).
“He is a very efficient player,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
After Monday’s 78-61 win at Florida International, South Carolina was 26th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 60.7 points per game.
“They are committed to defense and do a great job,” Dunphy said.
This will be the second SEC team the Owls will face, after defeating Auburn, 88-74, en route to winning the Charleston Classic.