From the opening tip, redshirt sophomore guard Khalif Battle was locked in, hitting an open corner three-pointer on the Owls’ first possession to give Temple a lead they never surrendered.
Temple Men’s Basketball (5-4, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated Virginia Commonwealth University (5-3, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) 83-73 on Saturday afternoon at The Liacouras Center for their third consecutive win of the season.
Since being benched by head coach Aaron McKie in the Owls’ 89-87 overtime loss to Vanderbilt University (3-4, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) on Nov. 15, Battle has scored at least 17 points in each of the last six games. In today’s contest, he finished with 27 points, shooting 7-19 from the field while spending a total of 40 minutes on the floor.
“If my homework is ever late [McKie] makes me run,” Battle said. “It’s hard work and you can blame coach McKie for that, so that’s why I don’t get tired.”
The Owls built an early 21-13 lead highlighted by a pair of threes from Battle and a powerful contested dunk by sophomore forward Nick Jourdain. The Rams cut the lead to two shortly after junior guard Josh Banks made a three-point shot from the top of the key.
The Owls were able to rebuild their lead to nine points following a stepback three from sophomore forward Zach Hicks. However, a foul by redshirt sophomore Damian Dunn on a three-pointer allowed Rams’ junior guard Adrian Baldwin Jr. to complete a four-point play and send the game into halftime with the Owls up by four.
The Owls hung onto a narrow lead for much of the second half until Battle converted on a corner three with just less than nine minutes remaining, putting Temple up seven and handing them a lead the Rams never cut into.
“[Battle] is starting to understand what winning DNA looks like,” McKie said. “If we want to have any chance of being a really good team, which I think we will be, we have to continue to get better offensively and he’s one of the guys that we rely on for that.”
The Rams successfully limited the impact of sophomore forward Jamille Reynolds in the low post, something many of the Owls’ opponents have failed to do. Reynolds was held to seven points while grabbing just two rebounds. Despite the Rams successfully containing Reynolds, Temple outrebounded VCU 30-28, with Battle leading the way with six and Dunn, Jourdain and sophomore guard Jahlil White each grabbing four.
Graduate student forward Kur Jongkuch, who had earned most of the Owls’ backup forward minutes so far, spent just three minutes on the floor. Jourdain, who impressed late in the game in wins against Drexel University (4-5, 0-0 Colonial Athletic Association) on Nov. 27 and La Salle University (3-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) on Nov. 30, absorbed most of the minutes that were previously given to Jongkuch.
“It’s one of those things where everybody’s gotta be ready,” McKie said. “When we call your name you have to be ready to go and that’s what great teammates do, so I don’t worry about that.”
The Owls will need to play near-perfect basketball during the remainder of their four out-of-conference matchups if they want to reclaim their status as a team that merits consideration for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
Early season losses have hurt their chances but as more time goes on, the team will continue to get better, Battle said.
“It’s time,” Battle said.” There’s a lot of new guys out here, I haven’t played in a year and [Sophomore guard Hysier Miller] is fairly new this year and everybody gets better and we are going to keep improving, watching film and learning and everyone is gonna get better.”
The Owls will look to extend their win streak to four when they return to The Liacouras Center to host Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s University (3-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m.
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