DEKALB, Ill. -- Ryan Brooks and his Temple teammates have been looking forward to this weekend's game with top-ranked Kansas for weeks. Still, the Owls (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) weren't about to overlook Northern Illinois.
"We stressed all through the week to stay focused," said Brooks, who scored 19 points in Temple's 70-60 victory Wednesday night. "With three games this week, each one was treated as the most important game of the year. [Now] we're very excited for the opportunity we have and the position we've put ourselves in."Temple (11-2) had two Mid-American Conference opponents to take care of this week before thinking about the Jayhawks. They walloped Bowling Green 63-39 on Monday before putting together a second-half surge to dispatch the Huskies in the first meeting between the schools.Juan Fernandez scored 26 points for the Owls, who never trailed. Northern Illinois (2-8) made it competitive as it cut an 18-point first-half deficit to 35-33 early in the second half."Teams are going to bring their 'A' game when they play us," Brooks said. "We have a target on our back and we've got to stay focused. And we didn't do that for the last 5 minutes of the first half. We let them gain confidence and get back in the game."But Temple reasserted control by the midpoint of the second half with a 12-2 run that restored a double-digit lead at 47-35. Northern Illinois never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.Fernandez was 4-of-7 from 3-point range and 8-of-8 from the free throw line for the Owls, who host Kansas on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.Xavier Silas paced the Huskies with 26 points while Darion Anderson added 15.Fernandez started the deciding run with his fourth 3-pointer of the game while Brooks followed with a layup and free throw 37 seconds later.Lavoy Allen had 11 rebounds for Temple and Brooks grabbed eight.Temple, the nation's top-ranked defense, had given up an average of 53.9 points per game and held opponents to 35.6 percent shooting from the field.Northern Illinois shot 35.5 percent for the game. After shooting just 25 percent (7-of-28) in the first half, the Huskies improved to 44 percent (15-of-34) in the second."I think what makes them such a good defensive team is that their offense is so good," Huskies coach Ricardo Patton said. "They put on a passing exhibition and know how to trust one another on the offensive end. They understand how to play, they do a nice job of sharing the ball."