Temple University Men’s Basketball (4-4, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated La Salle University (3-3, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) 67-51 Wednesday night at The Palestra. After beating Villanova University (2-5, 0-0 Big East) on Nov. 11, the win puts the Owls in strong position to win their first Big 5 title since the 2012-13 season when they tied with the Explorers.
“I thought the energy was good,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “My guys got a chance to play here at The Palestra, it’s a historic place and it was just good to play here and be a part of a doubleheader.”
After leaving the game early with a lower body injury in the Owls’ 73-61 victory against Drexel University (3-4, 0-0 Colonial Athletic Association) on Nov. 27, sophomore forward Jamillie Reynolds returned to the starting lineup and made his presence known from the opening tip.
In each of their first four possessions, Temple went to Reynolds in the low post. Reynolds finished the contest with a near double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
The Owls struggled to knock down shots in early stages of the first half, a problem that has continued to plague the offense since their losses just more than a week ago against St. John’s University (8-0, 6-0 Big East) and the University of Richmond (3-3, 0-0 Atlantic 10)at The Empire Classic in Brooklyn, New York. As a team, Temple shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half.
“I just thought we were flat to start,” McKie said. “Just trying to find ways to put combinations together to give us some juice, we were rushing too much but I thought we did a good job defensively, but we started rushing on the offensive side and typically when you start getting into trouble you start taking quick shots.”
Despite their shooting woes, the Owls were able to take the lead with seven minutes remaining in the first half during a near eight-minute scoreless streak from the Explorers. A pair of free throws from redshirt sophomore guard Damian Dunn capped off a 6-0 run and gave Temple their first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
The closing minutes of first halves continued to cripple the Owls, however. Temple went into the half down 29-21 and on the wrong side of an 11-2 run.
“It would be great if we could sustain great energy throughout the game,” McKie said. “As a coach you just have to adjust and know how to make adjustments and it worked out for us but it’s something we certainly want to correct.”
After a tightly contested opening to the second half, the Owls began to knock down the tough shots they failed to convert on in the first half. A pair of deep, contested threes from sophomore forward Zach Hicks, as well as a strongly guarded turnaround jump shot from Dunn helped generate a 15-1 run with just more than four minutes remaining in the game.
Dunn finished the contest as the Owls’ second-highest scorer after four consecutive games with less than 12 points.
“Just keeping my head up,” Dunn said. “Knowing that being off of the ball a little bit early and trusting in the guys like Zach, Khalif, Jamillie, Jahlil and Hysier, they are going to make plays and coming in the second half today I really wanted to do a better job of just getting off it early and letting those guys play and trust them.”
After winning back-to-back games for the first time this season, the Owls will need to continue securing out-of-conference wins if they want to offset early season losses and rebuild their status as a team worthy of qualifying for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
The Owls will look to sustain their momentum when they return to The Liacouras Center to host Virginia Commonwealth University (4-2, 0-0 Atlantic 10) on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m.