In the midst of a five-game losing streak entering Wednesday’s road game against Southern Methodist, Temple called a players-only meeting.
During the congregation before the Owls’ 66-64 win against the Mustangs (12-6, 2-3 American Athletic Conference), junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. told his teammates to think of their best memories playing basketball — whether they be at high school, college or another level of competition — and conjure them to play inspired basketball.
Freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis carried that lesson to Saturday against Memphis (12-6, 3-2 The American). He scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed three steals. But despite his efforts, Temple (8-9, 1-5 The American) lost, 75-72, at the Liacouras Center.
The Owls lost their second game of the month at the buzzer just days after redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown hit a game-winning shot with 1.2 seconds left against Southern Methodist, which had won 33 games in a row at home.
Temple has lost six of its past seven games. Pierre-Louis’ play, however, is cause for optimism.
“It gave us a huge boost [Saturday],” coach Fran Dunphy said. “It had us in position to win the game, but we didn’t finish it like we could’ve.”
“He has no fear,” Dunphy added. “He thinks he can do anything and everything.”
Pierre-Louis didn’t debut until the Owls’ fifth game, a 76-60 win against the University of South Carolina at Madison Square Garden. He has played in all but two games since. After averaging 11.2 minutes per game off the bench, Pierre-Louis made the first start of his career against Memphis and played a season-high 36 minutes.
He had provided bench scoring early in the conference season. He had back-to-back 11-point games against Tulane and Houston on Dec. 28 and 30. Pierre-Louis scored 13 points on Jan. 7 against Central Florida. The Owls’ starters combined to shoot 7-for-30 from the field and score 14 points in the team’s 21-point loss.
Pierre-Louis started Saturday’s game in place of sophomore guard Quinton Rose, who arrived late to morning shootaround and leads Temple with 14.7 points per game. Dunphy said he would “not necessarily” insert Pierre-Louis into the starting lineup for Wednesday’s home matchup against Tulsa and other future games.
He did whatever he could on Saturday to help the Owls try to win back-to-back games for the first time since their victories on Dec. 6 and 9 against the University of Wisconsin and St. Joseph’s.
Memphis went on a 13-0 second-half run while Temple went scoreless for six minutes, 52 seconds. Pierre-Louis countered with a 9-0 run of his own in a span of 1:53. The 6-foot-4-inch guard collected one of his three offensive rebounds and hit a putback layup to give Temple a brief lead.
Pierre-Louis stayed on the floor in overtime. He scored six of Temple’s 11 points by hitting two 3-pointers.
“I’m ready for anything coach has to give me,” Pierre-Louis said. “I’m a confident player. I work really hard. To be honest, I just love the challenge and I love to compete.”
“He was spectacular,” Dunphy said. “Some of those threes he made in the second half, he single-handedly brought us back.”
Pierre-Louis uses time outside of practice to refine his 3-point shooting ability, and Alston worked out with him before Saturday’s game. Through the first eight games of the season, Alston shot 53.5 percent from 3-point range. In the next eight, he shot 23.1 percent. On Saturday, he made five of his eight attempts.
He credits some of his success to doing extra work with Pierre-Louis.
“When he first got here, he wasn’t known as a shooter, but last couple of weeks he’s been knocking down shots,” Alston said. “Coach gave him a chance, and he made some big shots.”
“He’s in the gym constantly,” Dunphy said. “He’s the hardest worker we have, and it’s a pleasure to watch.”