It was supposed to be a nice cameo on senior day for Temple.
Seldom-used Steve Leonard, who had appeared in five games totaling five minutes this season, trotted out in the starting lineup with usual senior regulars Josh Brown and Obi Enechionyia.
Leonard, who entered the game with one point this season, drilled two three-pointers for the first six points of the contest before he was pulled with 16 minutes, 28 seconds left in the first half. Leonard’s second three, from the top of the key, banked in, causing his teammates to wildly cheer for him.
That helped spur the Owls to begin the game on an 16-0 run during Sunday’s 75-56 win over Central Florida in an American Athletic Conference game at the Liacouras Center.
“I was envisioning that moment for so long, I was hoping to make one shot, the fact I got two was kind of a bonus for me,” Leonard said. “It was a great feeling and something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Leonard began his college basketball career at Ursinus. He transferred to Temple, didn’t originally think he would try out for the team, but did after a year. This is his second year on the team.
“Steve is the same guy every single day, does his work, asks for nothing, has been a great member of our team and for him to make both of those shots early in the game, obviously it helped us a great deal as well,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “It was great for him and great for us”
In the second half, the crowd was chanting Leonard’s name, imploring Dunphy to put him back in the game.
They got their wish and even though he didn’t score the second time, his impact was cemented in the first four minutes.
Just last Sunday, Temple was on the opposite end, surrendering the game’s first 15 points in an 80-59 home loss to Houston.
It’s been that kind of up-and-down season for the Owls (16-12, 8-8 AAC), who have road games at Connecticut and Tulsa this week to end the regular season and still face long odds in hopes of an NCAA berth.
Leonard, a 6-foot-6 product of Perkiomen Valley, wasn’t the only one who provided inspiration. Before the game, Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills spoke to the Owls. Mills sat courtside during the game and seemed to be enjoying his interaction with the fans. During one timeout, he was introduced and led the crowd in the singing of the Eagles’ fight song and during another timeout he helped launch T-shirts into the crowd.
During a halftime interview with the Inquirer and Daily News, Mills said he was happy to talk to the Owls pregame.
One of his messages?
“Our whole main thing with the Eagles was holding guys accountable and that is what these guys have to do, hold each other accountable,” Mill said.
At least for one day that Eagles winning mojo rubbed off on Temple. This was a UCF team that trounced Temple, 60-39, on Jan. 7 in Orlando.
Granted, UCF (17-11, 8-8) was without 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall on Sunday, who is out for the season following surgery for a torn labrum on Jan. 31, but the Owls were in control from the beginning when Leonard got them off to the quick start.
Sophomore Quinton Rose led Temple with 19 points, while Shizz Alston added 13 points. UCF was led by 6-9 redshirt senior
On Senior Day, Temple’s Steve Leonard got his first start and made two threes for the first 6 points in the Owls 75-56 win over UCF. Leonard, coach Fran Dunphy and Obi Enechionyia talk about Leonard’s big day. pic.twitter.com/YOzAAOUqwI
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) February 25, 2018
A.J. Davis, who had 18 points.