After suffering a buzzer-beating loss at the hands of Memphis’ (16-5, 6-2 American Athletic Conference) fifth-year guard Kendric Davis, the Tigers’ reigning conference player of the year, Temple Men’s Basketball finds itself on a four-game winning streak.
It started with another electric performance by guard Damian Dunn in what may be the fourth-year sophomore’s final game against his hometown school East Carolina (11-10, 2-6 The American).
It was followed by an upset at then No. 1 Houston (20-2, 8-1 The American), then two overtime wins against both South Florida (9-12, 2-6 The American) and Central Florida (13-8, 4-5 The American).
After a non-conference performance that presumably left the Owls dead in the water, Temple is now 3-0 in Quadrant 1 games and is likely to receive a National Invitation Tournament bid.
Temple (14-9, 8-2 The American) won six of its first eight conference games to take sole possession of second place in the AAC. The Owls were without center Jamille Reynolds for those games as the redshirt-sophomore was sidelined with a broken right thumb.
Reynolds was advised after Temple’s Dec. 10 loss at Penn (11-11, 3-4 Ivy League) to have thumb surgery to be ready for Temple’s back end of conference play. He was originally ruled out for 6-8 weeks but returned to practice after four weeks and returned to play about two weeks later.
“It wasn’t as bad as people thought,” Reynolds said after Temple’s win against USF. “I thought I was out for the season, at least the conference tournament. But I got the surgery and they said that it wasn’t that, so I’m just thankful.”
Reynolds, who is still working his way back into basketball shape, returned in the Jan. 25 win against USF in a limited 12 minutes. Although he played on a minutes restriction, Reynolds’ four fouls contributed to the limited playing time.
The center showed an encouraging sign of health with a block using the previously injured hand while he shot 1-for-3 from the field and 0-for-1 from the free throw line.
To further display confidence in his current starting lineup, Temple head coach Aaron McKie brought Reynolds off the bench with Dunn and fellow redshirt-sophomore guard Khalif Battle. With Reynolds teaming up with the preseason all-conference duo, the Owls now have three starting-caliber players in their second unit.
“It’s a spark,” Dunn said after the USF win. “I think it’s something that we just have to embrace, and we’re doing a good job of that. We just want to win basketball games.”
Up next for the Owls was a game at UCF, a Quadrant 1 matchup against the school that sat Reynolds on the bench for two years.
Dunn said he knew that Reynolds would be ready for what would be an emotional game. Reynolds finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting in Saturday’s win while also contributing two blocks in 21 minutes of play.
After a shooting slump, Battle is averaging 25.5 points per game in his last two contests. With Reynolds back, the Owls have life despite their three best players all coming off the bench.
“This is a big win for us,” McKie said after Saturday’s win. “That’s a team that’s going to have some say in the conference. They’re a good team, so we wanted to come on the road and get this win and continue to build our resume.”
The Owls won two overtime games in less than a week after losing their first two overtime matchups of the season at home, with a win against then-No. 16 Villanova University (10-10, 4-5 Big East Conference) sandwiched in between them.
Although an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament is most likely out of the window, Temple is hitting its stride and has eight days off before its rematch with No. 3 Houston at The Liacouras Center.
A win in that game would prove the Jan. 22 win wasn’t a fluke, move the Owls to 4-0 in Quadrant 1 games and give Temple sole possession of first place in the AAC.
Suddenly, a ticket to the big dance doesn’t seem impossible. It’s still unlikely as the Owls would need a lot of help around the country for an at-large bid. However, Temple’s success in conference play means the Owls cannot be counted out as a possibility to win the conference tournament.
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