Temple defeats ECU in conference opener

Temple Men’s Basketball defeated East Carolina University 59-57 on Wednesday night despite the absences of sophomore guard Damian Dunn and sophomore forward Jamille Reynolds.

After a dull performance during out-of-conference play, the Owl’s only path to the NCAA tournament will be to win the conference tournament in March. EARL KUFEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Men’s Basketball (7-7, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated East Carolina University (9-5, 0-1 AAC) 59-57 on Wednesday night in Greenville, North Carolina. The Owls were still able to score down the stretch to pull away with a narrow victory despite regular starters redshirt sophomore guard Damian Dunn and sophomore forward Jamille Reynolds being sidelined with injuries.

Redshirt sophomore guard Khalif Battle, who came off the bench in each of the Owls’ first five games of the season before starting in the last eight, returned to his off the bench role in the contest. Battle had made just 14 of his last 45 shot attempts entering the game. 

After opening the game just one for four from the floor, Battle’s 16 second-half points helped lead Temple in late stages of the game.

The Owls could not convert on open scoring chances early on in the contest. Sophomore forward Zach Hicks and sophomore guard Hysier Miller each made just one of their five field goal attempts in the first half. Hicks finished the game shooting 2-of-11 from beyond the arc.

Despite holding East Carolina to just 23 points on 6-of-26 from the field in the first half, the Owls found themselves on the wrong side of an 8-0 run in the final minute of the half that was capped off by a half-court heave from junior guard Jaden Walker to give the Pirates a 23-22 lead.

The Owls regained the lead following a three-pointer from Hicks in the opening minutes of the half. After leading by as much as six points, a second chance layup from Pirates’ sophomore forward Brandon Johnson and a trip to the free throw line with five minutes remaining in the half by Walker gave East Carolina their first lead since the opening seconds of the half.

Minutes later, a deep three-point shot by Battle and a driving, contested and-one dunk by sophomore forward Nick Jourdain put the Owls back in front, giving them a lead they did not surrender for the remainder of the contest.

The Owls continued to feel the absence of Reynolds down low, being outrebounded by the Pirates 46-36 in the contest while struggling to generate consistent offense from inside the paint. Despite being outworked around the rim, East Carolina shot just 20-35 from the free throw line, allowing Temple to keep the lead at multiple points in the second half.

After an underwhelming out-of-conference performance, the Owls will need to dominate their conference schedule in order to improve their lackluster record and earn a strong seeding placement in the American Athletic Conference tournament. 

With the Owls’ at-large chances out the window, Temple’s only path to the NCAA tournament will be to win the conference tournament in March.

The Owls will look to build off the win when they return home to host the University of Cincinnati (9-4, 0-0 The American) on Jan. 1 at 3 p.m. at The Liacouras Center.

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