Temple men’s basketball looking to ‘adapt’ in AAC tournament

Temple, which will face Tulane on Thursday at 7 p.m., ranks 342nd out of 351 Division I teams in free-throw attempts.

Freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis attempts a floater over Central Florida redshirt-senior guard and forward A.J. Davis during the Owls' 75-56 win on Feb. 25 at the Liacouras Center. | HOJUN YU / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Sophomore guard Quinton Rose isn’t sure why Temple’s focus wavers from game to game.

The Owls were “locked in” and “threw the first punch” in their wins against Auburn University, Clemson University and Wichita State, which are all ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, Rose said.

In Sunday’s regular-season finale, a 76-58 loss to Tulsa (19-11, 12-6 American Athletic Conference) in Oklahoma, Temple allowed the first 24 points of the game. Now, the Owls (16-14, 8-10 The American) have to piece together a strong performance in the American Athletic Conference tournament, starting with Thursday’s first-round matchup against Tulane (14-16, 5-13 The American) at 7 p.m. in Orlando, Florida.

“We have no choice to,” said freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis, who made The American’s All-Rookie Team, before Tuesday’s practice.

“We raised everybody’s expectation, including ours, by the start that we had this year,” coach Fran Dunphy said during Monday’s conference coaches teleconference. “We’ve had a couple of good runs and a number of good wins and some other games that we felt like we could have played better and came out with a different result.”

Temple enters the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed. On Feb. 12, Temple was a “Next Four Out” team in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projection and had a 53 percent chance of earning an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Owls were in the midst of a five-game winning streak, including an upset of Wichita State (24-6, 14-4 The American) at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 1.

Temple had a 14-point halftime lead on the road against Wichita State on Feb. 15, but it lost the game and its win streak. The defeat started a stretch of four losses in five games to close the regular season. Temple fell off the NCAA Tournament bubble after its loss to Houston (24-6, 14-4 The American) on Feb. 18 and fell out of the National Invitation Tournament projection from sports analytics site DRatings.com after its loss to Tulsa.

A conference tournament run is Temple’s final hope of prolonging its season. The Owls have a 70.8 percent chance to beat Tulane and advance to the quarterfinal round, according to sports analytics site DRatings.com.

If they reach the quarterfinals, Temple would face Wichita State, the No. 2 team in The American’s bracket, on Friday at 7 p.m.

Rose, who earned honorable mention distinction in The American, redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown, junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. and senior forward Obi Enechionyia scored in double figures in both of Temple’s matchups against the Shockers.

“They’ve got guys like we mentioned Shizz Alston, Rose, Obi, those guys can go get buckets,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said on Monday’s teleconference. “And Brown, their point guard, is a tremendously experienced and tough leader. So great team, given us a lot of problems the two times we played them.”

During the Owls’ win against Wichita State, they attempted 20 or more free throws, something they’ve done six times this season. Temple shot 10-for-15 from the free-throw line against Tulsa on Sunday, but it didn’t attempt any free throws during its more-than-10-minute drought to start the game.

Getting more opportunities at the free-throw line is a focus heading into Thursday’s game. Alston said feeding the ball down low to junior center Ernest Aflakpui and giving the ball to Enechionyia in the post are options.

Dunphy would also like Alston to get to the foul line more frequently than he does. Alston owns the program’s record for consecutive made free throws and has shot 94.1 percent from the free-throw line this season.

Alston, however, averages less than two attempts per game. Temple ranks 342nd out of 351 Division I teams in free-throw attempts and attempts the second most 3-pointers per game in The American.

“We’re not a great get-to-the-foul-line team,” Dunphy said Monday. “That’s not what we do. As much as we talk about it and try it, we don’t get as many opportunities as we would like, but we’re going to have to adapt and adapt better than we have been.”

“I think a lot of it is just kind of the way we play as individual players,” Enechionyia said. “Sometimes when we’re hitting shots in practice and things are going well, we try and transfer that to the game and when the shots aren’t falling, we fall into these lapses where we just can’t score for a few minutes.”

Temple split its regular-season games with Tulane. The Owls lost, 85-75, on Dec. 28 at the Liacouras Center. Temple shot 4-for-21 from 3-point range in that game.

The Owls beat Tulane, 83-76, on Feb. 4 in New Orleans. They shot 48 percent from 3-point range and had 23 assists on 31 made baskets.

“They play really fast,” Pierre-Louis said. “We know how they play. We know their personnel really well, so I think that we match up really well with them.”

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