Temple aiming to ride win streak to first outright Big 5 title in 12 years

After going undefeated during a three-game week, the Owls have a chance to be the best team in Philly again.

Temple Men’s Basketball redshirt-sophomore guard Khalif Battle showed his defensive improvements in Temple’s win against VCU on Dec. 3 EARL KUFEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Men’s Basketball (5-4, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) is on its first win streak of the 2022-23 season after getting off to a slow start. Although the Owls missed their early opportunity to stack their tournament resume, they are showing signs of improvement.

After going 1-2 during Feast Week again, Temple bounced back with two City 6 wins and a dominant victory against a former Atlantic 10 foe, Virginia Commonwealth University (5-3, 0-0 Atlantic 10). The Owls have little margin for error from here on out and played with that desperation last week.

Battle is Back

After his redshirt sophomore season, shooting guard Khalif Battle declared for the NBA Draft. Battle averaged 21.4 points through seven games in 2021-22 before suffering a season-ending foot injury

On June 1, Battle announced that he was withdrawing his name from the draft and returning to Temple. Scouts told him they would like to see improvement as a leader and defender, Battle said.

Aside from his disagreement with head coach Aaron McKie in the Nov. 15 loss to Vanderbilt University (4-4 0-0 Southeastern Conference), Battle has made strides in both departments. He has been vocal in huddles and on the bench and is one of the Owls’ loudest communicators on the court. 

Defensively, Battle is having the best season of his career. He’s guarded ball-handlers more than ever before and had a breakout game in Saturday’s win against VCU. Temple sophomores point guard Hysier Miller and forward Jahlil White usually defend opponents’ best scorers and primary ball-handlers. 

Battle took on that defensive responsibility against the Rams as he played the full 40 minutes and guarded the Rams’ best player, preseason all-Atlantic 10 junior guard Adrian “Ace” Baldwin Jr. for most of the game. Battle finished the game with a career-high four steals while still being able to score 27 points on the other end of the floor.

“I’m proud of KB,” White said. “He sees how much we’re emphasizing defense as a team and I feel like he’s really buying into that.”

Jourdain’s Emergence

Sophomore forward Nick Jourdain has come alive during Temple’s three-game winning streak. 

In the Nov. 27 win against Drexel University (4-5, 0-0 Colonial Athletic Association), sophomore center Jamille Reynolds left the game early with an upper-leg injury. In his absence, Jourdain stepped in as Temple’s small-ball center. With Jourdain on the floor, Temple went on a 15-0 run to finally pull away from the Dragons and win the game.

In Wednesday’s win against La Salle University (4-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10), Jourdain’s minutes decreased but he was still effective. Battle’s former AAU teammate finished with seven points on 100 percent shooting, hauled in five rebounds and tied his season-high of four blocks. His defense allowed Temple to push the pace and score baskets in transition, turning a 32 percent shooting performance in the first half to a nearly 60 percent field goal rate in the second half.

Jourdain’s minutes increased again against VCU as McKie benched Reynolds and inserted Jourdain in as the small-ball center in order to spread the Rams out. The adjustment opened up the paint, allowing for Temple’s perimeter players to get baskets at the rim before collapsing defenses and passing out for open threes.

“Nick helps us a lot because he’s like a point forward,” Battle said. “We can switch one through five if we have to, and that’s really why you go with Nick instead of Jamille.” 

Dunn Returning To Form

Fourth-year sophomore guard Damian Dunn averaged nearly 30 points per game through the first three games of the season, leading him to previously become the nation’s top scorer. It appeared as if the preseason all-conference duo of Dunn and Battle were going to lead the way for Temple as one of the best teams in the American Athletic Conference. 

Dunn went into a slump in his next three games, scoring 19 points combined on 4-of-22 shooting. He returned to being a reliable offensive contributor in Temple’s three games last week, averaging 14.3 points on 15-of-32 shooting.

On Tap

Temple has a chance at clinching its first outright Big 5 championship in 12 years with a game tonight against Saint Joseph’s University (3-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10) and Saturday at the University of Pennsylvania (5-6, 0-0 Ivy League). It would be Temple’s 28th Big 5 title, tied with Villanova University for the most ever.

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