Temple men’s basketball grapples with losses ahead of AAC play

In Aaron McKie’s first season as coach, the Owls have already matched last season’s total of losses.

Head coach Aaron McKie watches the Owls’ game against ECU from the sidelines at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 1. | NEIL GOLDENTHAL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Along the sideline at the Liacouras Center, there’s one chair that often remains empty this season. 

Temple men’s basketball coach Aaron McKie is always out of his seat. He is animated, loudly directing his players and making frequent substitutions. 

In his first year, McKie has proven to be a spirited and vocal coach, compared to former coach Fran Dunphy’s more reserved, stoic approach during games.

McKie’s team has already matched its total amount of losses from last season with a month of this season left.   

“If guys get out there and miss an assignment, they’re coming out,” McKie said on Nov. 5, 2019. “Miss a rebound, you’re coming out. No questions asked. 

Last season, the Owls finished with a record of 23-10. This season, Temple is 11-10 with 10 games left on its schedule.

“We try to keep it together as a team,” McKie said. “Every day we come in and when we get to work, we just talk about being a family, being a team and supporting one another. I thought they’ve been doing a good job of that. It’s just that results haven’t been going our way.”

After starting the season with a record of 9-3, the Owls have struggled in conference play. Temple has only won three of its nine games against conference opponents. The team won its first conference game on the road against Central Florida on Dec. 31, 2019, but the Owls lost the next three games against Tulsa, Houston and Tulane.

Temple upset then 16th-ranked Wichita State on Jan. 15 and then proceeded to lose its next four games. Three of those games were against opponents from The American — Southern Methodist, Cincinnati and Connecticut. Temple’s other loss in that stretch came against Big 5 rival Penn on Jan. 25.

McKie gave a longer post-game speech than usual after the UConn loss because he was unhappy with the team’s performance in a 78-63 loss. 

The Owls broke the losing streak when they beat East Carolina 76-64 on Feb. 1.

Junior forward J.P. Moorman II did not let the losing streak change the team’s outlook on the season, he said.

“It was great, but I didn’t let it affect my confidence,” Moorman said about  breaking the losing streak. “I didn’t let it affect how I try to motivate the guys. I just wanted to remain positive and encourage everybody.”

In its win against East Carolina, Temple improved its shooting from its last four games. The Owls made 48.9 percent of their shots from the field and 40 percent of their three-point shots against the Pirates.

During its four-game losing streak, Temple only made 38.6 percent of its shots from the field and just over 35 percent of its three-pointers.

“I was just happy to get the win,” McKie said. “We had to hold on. It’s just one of those things when you’re struggling as a team, you use life as an example. When you’re struggling in life and you get knocked down, the hardest thing to do is get up.”

Despite the win, the Owls still struggled at times against East Carolina. After leading 26-10 in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Pirates then went on an 18-0 run to take a 28-26 lead. During its run, East Carolina implemented a 2-3 zone defense and Temple went scoreless for four minutes and 44 seconds.

The Owls have struggled to counter zone defenses this season. To better break down the zone, the Owls have to get the ball inside to the post more instead of relying on outside shooting, Moorman said.

“I think if we work inside out against the zone, I think we’re fine,” Moorman said. “We just gotta get the ball into the middle or down low to the post to break the zone. Whenever there’s a zone, you gotta get inside of it first and then you gotta collapse the defense and then we got shooters on the outside.”

The Owls are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament unless they win their conference tournament. 

The conference tournament is March 12-15 in Fort Worth, Texas. Temple is currently tied for seventh in the conference standings. 

In The American, the top four teams get a first-round bye, so Temple will most likely have to win four consecutive games to earn a NCAA Tournament bid.

Despite recent struggles, the Owls are taking a game-by-game approach and not thinking about the postseason, senior guard Quinton Rose said.

“We just gotta stay together and keep pushing,” Rose said on Jan. 25. “Keep working every day. It starts in practice.”

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