Temple College’s season-opening basketball game Saturday afternoon against Mondello College was a fresh start for all the Leopards involved, but it was an even more special experience for sophomore point guard R.J. Mason.
The last time Mason played a game at TC Gym, he suffered a torn left Achilles tendon against Collin last Jan. 16 in Temple’s third conference game, ending his promising freshman season early. After more than half a year of grueling rehabilitation, Mason returned to full strength by September before a hamstring injury caused him to miss most of the Leopards’ preseason scrimmages.
He was back in action in TC’s opener, though, and played like an even better version of his former self.
Mason’s team-high 19 points were matched by fellow standout guard Kedrian Johnson as the Leopards feasted on 29 turnovers by Mondello while cruising to a 130-69 victory.
“Man, it was great to be back out there again with the guys,” said Mason, who made four of Temple’s 10 3-pointers. “I’ve put in a lot of work this offseason, trying to get right. It was a big win in our first game and everybody got to play, so it was really fun.”
Newcomers Kortrijk Miles, Hugo Florestedt and Carlton Linguard contributed 18, 17 and 16 points, respectively, for the Leopards, who tipped off the 33rd and final season of head coach Kirby Johnson’s tenure.
Johnson — set to retire after this season — saw what he expected from Mason, who averaged 17.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.3 steals in 17 games last season.
“R.J. played well. We contemplated not playing him because of the hamstring. He missed our last four scrimmages and has only practiced intermittently. But you can tell a difference when he’s on the floor,” Kirby Johnson said. “With him and Kedrian, they get into the right sets and they’re in the right places.”
Temple anticipates a much stronger test when it hosts 15th-ranked Navarro (0-2) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“That will help us big-time,” Mason said. “We’ve got to go in knowing our defense is going to be there and we’re going to hit shots.”
The Leopards got 13 points from freshman forward Josiyah Thorn and 11 from freshman guard Khouri Perkins. Miles — a 6-foot-5 sophomore wing who transferred from New Mexico State — paced Temple with 11 rebounds, and 6-11 freshman forward Linguard grabbed seven as Texas A&M first-year head coach Buzz Williams watched him intently from the stands.
“Kortrijk did a super job on the boards. He did a really good job of attacking and being aggressive,” Kirby Johnson said. “I didn’t think Carlton was as aggressive as he’s been.”
Corey Gray and John Rivera scored 14 points apiece and Jamie Spivey added 10 for Dallas-based Mondello College (0-2), a first-year independent program that lost 156-65 at Weatherford on Friday. The much smaller Dons dug themselves a deep hole by committing 19 first-half turnovers, mostly against the Leopards’ press.
Temple blitzed Mondello with a nearly flawless opening 5 minutes to build a 14-0 lead. Miles started the run with a 15-foot jumper, passed to Linguard for a powerful dunk and soared for a offensive rebound and bucket. Linguard’s putback was followed by Mason’s two consecutive 3s from the left side.
Mondello steadied itself and responded with a 17-14 run to make it 28-17 with 9:30 remaining in the first half, but Mason’s 3 off a turnover ignited a 22-5 run that included five Linguard points, Aleu Aleu’s dunk and Perkins’ three-point play.
Linguard scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half, and Florestedt — a 6-5 freshman wing from Sweden by way of a San Antonio prep school — gave Temple a first-half spark by making two 3s and adding a three-point play en route to a 70-33 halftime advantage.
“That’s what Hugo can do. He’s a bigger wing who can shoot over people,” Kirby Johnson said of Florestedt, who made two 3s in each half.
The West Virginia-committed Kedrian Johnson led TC’s second-half charge with 13 points.