Temple University men’s basketball (13-9, 6-5 The American Athletic Conference) suffered back-to-back losses on Feb. 7 and on Feb. 12 after losing leading scorers redshirt-freshman guard Damian Dunn to an ankle injury and freshman guard Jeremiah Williams to a shoulder injury.
Dunn and Williams were injured while playing against the University of South Florida (7-16, 2-9 The American) on Feb. 7, and are considered day-to-day. Prior to these injuries, the Owls had won six of their seven previous games.
Without two key offensive players, Temple turned to its bench for scoring options against Tulane University (11-11, 8-5 The American) on Feb. 12. Redshirt-sophomore guard Tai Strickland, freshman guard Quincy Ademokoya, freshman guard Hysier Miller and freshman forward Zach Hicks have shouldered the load in the Owls’ last two games.
Since their matchup against the Bulls, the Owls have struggled to make key shots down the stretch, which resulted in losses. Yet, head coach Aaron McKie has the Owls playing hard and keeping contests close.
Leaning on bench
Williams injured his shoulder early in the 52-49 loss against the Bulls, sending Temple to the bench in search of its next point guard to close out the game.
Dunn went down midway through the second half with an ankle injury. The Owls have been here before, losing sophomore guard Khalif Battle at the start of the season.
“We all had to adapt,” Williams said.
McKie turned to Miller and Strickland to run the backcourt, which is Williams’ usual role. Both guards worked off each other to make offensive plays.
After replacing Williams, Miller finished the game against the Bulls scoring seven points on three of five shooting in just 20 minutes of action.
Miller – who is averaging just 13.3 minutes per game – made his first start of the season in the 92-83 loss against the Green Wave. Ademokoya made his fifth start, after not playing for more than 10 minutes since the Owls lost to the University of Central Florida (14-8, 6-6 The American) on Dec. 15.
Miller led the team with eight assists and Strickland trailed behind with five. In the first half, Miller opened the game with a good look to Ademokoya, who shot a corner 3-pointer.
Because the Green Wave’s defense was forcing the Owls outside, Strickland moved the ball until he saw an open look. The Owls tied the game 59-59 after Strickland made a quick pass to Hicks, who made a three with less than nine minutes left in the second half.
Ademokoya put up a career-high 15 points against the Green Wave, shooting four of 11 from beyond the arc. Miller also had a career-high nine points.
Ademokoya put his shot-making abilities on display, and it was the crafty feeds from Miller and Strickland that allowed him to get the right looks.
Hicks put up 21 points against the Green Wave, shooting five of 11 from 3-point territory.
Temple’s bench maintained control throughout the second half of that game, but the Green Wave made a quick three in the final seconds that sent the game into overtime, where the Owls couldn’t finish them off.
After Ademokoya fouled out, McKie looked to Hicks to close out the game because he was the only reliable shooter on the floor, having hit three key 3-pointers late in the second half of a game with 10 lead-changes.
Without Dunn’s help to close out the game, Temple’s lack of depth in overtime showed.
The Owls will continue to rely on their young players to make a run late into March, but should have Williams and Dunn back sooner than later.
End of winning streak
The Owls rose to as high as third place in the American Athletic Conference standings after their win against the University of Cincinnati (16-8, 6-5 The American) on Jan. 25, putting them only one game behind second-place Southern Methodist University (18-5, 9-2 The American).
After the consecutive losses to the Bulls and Green Wave, Temple dropped to a tie for fifth place with the Bearcats. Temple’s uphill battle to climb back into the top three will include a home game against the Mustangs on Feb. 16 and an away game against the University of Memphis (14-8, 8-4 The American) on Feb. 24.
The Owls didn’t look like themselves against the Bulls, especially after Williams went down in the first half with an injury.
“We was just out of sync throughout the game,” McKie said.
Temple committed 18 turnovers despite dominating the Bulls in every other category throughout the game. The Bulls made one 3-pointer all game, and established a lead they never gave up.
Against the Green Wave, Temple looked better offensively, shooting 41.2 percent from the field and making 14 threes.
Despite the two losses, the Owls competed in both games. However, when Temple takes on the Mustangs and the Tigers, who are shooting 47 percent from the field, the Owls will need to raise their offensive game even more. Wins against the Mustangs and Tigers would undoubtedly improve their postseason odds.
But for now, these two tightly-contested losses could prove costly for Temple for establishing its position for a first-round-bye in the AAC Tournament.