If you ask Jake O’Brien what has changed about his game recently, he would probably answer honestly, if given the chance.
“He shoots all the time now,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt interjected as he walked by an interview.
Wyatt, typically animate on and off the court, isn’t kidding. O’Brien has been shooting a lot recently, and Temple is staying in games because of it.
The 6-foot, 9-inch graduate senior forward has brought about an increase in his shots per game in the past month. O’Brien’s shots, and points, have added up at an opportune time.
In the last five games, O’Brien has averaged 11.8 points, bringing his season average up from 7.6 to 8.4. This has been critical in more ways than the boost in scoring. Every game during that stretch has been a one-point contest, the longest recorded streak in college basketball history.
“I am getting more and more comfortable each game here,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien’s journey to Philadelphia began at Boston University in 2008, where he played three seasons and redshirted his senior season due to a surgery on his foot. Boston was informed that it would not be eligible for the American East Conference postseason tournament in 2013 due to a conference switch. As the Terriers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament went out the door, O’Brien followed.
“Temple offered the two things I was looking for,” O’Brien said. “I wanted a place that I could play and contribute and a place that I had a chance to win. Being my last year, I really wanted the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. Temple, with [its] winning tradition, really fit the criteria I was looking for.”
O’Brien took advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players to transfer and maintain their remaining eligibility without sitting out a year because the team received sanctions from its conference. The rule allowed O’Brien to avoid the situation that kept junior guard Dalton Pepper, who transferred from West Virginia, sitting on the bench all of last season.
“In Boston I was one of the main guys,” O’Brien. “I was looked upon for scoring. Here my role is similar because I am a scorer and they expect me to score. But here there are a lot of guys capable of having big nights, so it’s not as much pressure.”
O’Brien started the season slowly, eclipsing a double-digit point total once in the team’s first eight games. In the Owls’ 17 games since, he has hit that mark nine times.
“His confidence is very high and he has hit some big shots for us, especially recently,” redshirt-senior forward Scootie Randall said. “It is great that he can come off the bench and give us scoring.”
Despite starting in four of Temple’s 25 games this season, O’Brien has found his way on to the team, and conference, leader boards. O’Brien’s 8.4 points per game average ranks fifth on the team, but his 46 percent shooting percentage is second among players with six or more attempts. In this category, O’Brien trails only sophomore forward Anthony Lee’s percentage of 54 percent.
O’Brien’s 42 percent mark from beyond the arc leads the team among players who have two or more attempts. By hitting 41 of his 97 attempts this season, O’Brien ranks eighth in the Atlantic 10 Conference in three-point field goal percentage, the only Owl in the Top 15.
Where O’Brien has thrived, has been in teaming up with Randall, another player who missed the 2011-12 campaign due to injury. Randall and O’Brien have combined for 83 three-pointers this season, an asset that gives Temple a shooting tandem that can spread the floor. Temple currently ranks sixth in the A-10 in three-point field goals made with 179, putting them on pace to eclipse last season’s total of 228.
“For me personally he has been a great asset,” Randall said. “We have great chemistry and we know each other so well. He is a great player who can shoot the ball well and take some pressure off of us.”
O’Brien’s presence has allowed the Owls to compete in an unusually tough A-10 this year. The conference has more teams in the Top 100 RPI than any other with the exception of the Big East, the Owls’ destination for next year. However, the team knows that competing isn’t enough. O’Brien came from Boston to play in the postseason, and he wants to get them there.
“Everyone’s ultimate goal is the NCAA Tournament, to not make it would be disappointing,” O’Brien said. “I have enjoyed my experience thus far here. We still have a lot of work to do…right now I am absolutely happy with my decision to come here.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.