Hurting Owls survive

Men’s basketball can remain competitive without two starters.

Injuries are a part of any season. Just ask the men’s basketball team.

After avoiding a scare with senior forward Lavoy Allen a couple a weeks ago and finally getting junior guard Juan Fernandez back into the lineup, the Owls took two blows this week as both redshirt-junior center Micheal Eric and junior forward Scootie Randall suffered injuries.

Eric, who suffered a fractured patella in his right knee last Tuesday in practice, will not need surgery but is out for the season. Randall, who suffered a hairline fracture in his right foot during Thursday’s win over Richmond, is day-to-day but could miss substantial time.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen [with Randall],” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’re going to try to see if he can still play basketball this year. He’s hurt, but he’s a great guy. He’s going to continue to work every day with the trainers and doctors and see if he can get something out of it.”

Back away from the ledge Temple fans, the Owls should be all right. Sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson, who started a game in Allen’s place earlier this season, has started the last two games in place of Eric and has done an admirable job. In the past two games, Jefferson has averaged 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing 35 minutes per game.

At 6-foot 6-inches, Jefferson is shorter than your typical big man, but he’s been able to get the job done. Look at his arms. Tell me he can’t defend bigger players in the Atlantic Ten Conference. He’s been doing it all year as Dunphy’s backup big.

Randall’s injury is a little more worrisome but still manageable. Freshman guard Aaron Brown started in place of Randall on Sunday but played just eight minutes. Off the bench, sophomore guards Khalif Wyatt and T.J. DiLeo recorded 27 and 18 minutes of play, respectively. Despite the obvious disparity in time on the court, Brown should continue to see his name in the starting lineup while Randall is out.

“[Brown] needs to start the game because the reality is, when you start, you have more margin of error,” Dunphy said. “When you come off the bench, and you make a mistake, it’s magnified. That’s the comfort level we needed to give to A.B., and we’ll try to do the same on Wednesday [against No. 1 Duke]. He needs to play because we’re obviously shorthanded, and he’s a tremendous kid. He’s worked as hard as anybody in our program.”

“The message to Khalif and T.J. was, ‘You deserve to play a lot, too, but here’s the way we want to handle this situation,’” Dunphy added.

Additionally, I think it’s fair to assume Dunphy was simply more comfortable with Wyatt and DiLeo having had success off the bench already this season. Brown’s success has been more limited.

Dunphy knows what to expect with Wyatt and DiLeo coming off the bench. With Wyatt, he has instant offense and with DiLeo, he has a steady floor general that makes few mental mistakes.

Now for the bad news.

I honestly believe the Owls will be fine in the upcoming weeks without Eric and possibly without Randall. They’ll be able to compete with the Blue Devils and handle the rest of the A-10 schedule. It would be hard to bet against Dunphy in Atlantic City, as his squads have won three-straight conference tournaments at Boardwalk Hall.

What worries me, however, is the NCAA tournament. Simply put, a lineup of three 6-foot-4 inch guards, a 6-foot-6-inch forward and a 6-foot-9-inch forward can be pushed around a little bit by some of the nation’s better teams. Are there any ways around it? Sure, the Owls could hope to outrun their opposition on offense and pester the other team on defense, but that isn’t a sure thing.

With that in mind, I would hold off on bringing Randall back as long as possible to allow his foot to heal to the point where he can play almost pain free. The team will be fine for a little while without him. His true value to the team will be evident late in March.

Kyle Gauss can be reached at kyle.gauss@temple.edu.

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