Until Saturday afternoon, Temple men’s basketball had not played an official game since March 7. After 287 days, head coach Aaron McKie’s second season at the helm finally began — and it began with a win.
After departures of major contributors, an offseason full of unknowns and a two-week postponement of the team’s season due to COVID-19 protocols, McKie’s Owls (1-0, 0-0, American Athletic Conference) took the floor Saturday afternoon, defeating the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders (0-1, 0-0, America East Conference) by a final score of 72-60.
The Owls got off to a hot start on offense and never looked back. They outscored the Highlanders by 12 points in the first five minutes, scoring 14 points while holding NJIT to only two. All five baskets they scored in that time were assisted.
Four different players combined for those five baskets, a sign that ball movement led to many good looks for the Owls. After generating open shot attempts, the Owls took advantage early on.
Despite an offensive surge by NJIT in the next several minutes, the Owls maintained a steady double-digit lead, keeping pace with the Highlanders’ offense and relying on the cushion that came with their early lead. They finished the first half leading by 16, scoring 42 points compared to NJIT’s 26.
Defensively, the Owls struggled in the middle of the second half, but were able to hone in on senior guard Zach Cooks, NJIT’s leading option, who made only five of his 22 shot attempts. The Highlanders as a whole shot just 23-67, making only 33 percent of their field goal attempts. Temple’s defense as a whole impressed, recording five steals and five blocks in the game.
The Owls got a mixture of offensive contributions from returning players and new ones. Among the new players to leave an impact were the team’s starting guards freshman Jeremiah Williams and redshirt freshman Damian Dunn.
Williams, in his first game as a college basketball player, had the composure of a veteran and chipped in with 11 points. Williams also scored efficiently, making three of his four field goal attempts and both of his free throw attempts in the first 20 minutes of play.
Dunn and Williams established themselves as Temple’s most reliable offensive players throughout the game, repeatedly penetrating NJIT’s defense and drawing fouls. Dunn finished the game with 10 made free throws on 13 attempts.
Senior forward De’Vondre Perry, one of the McKie’s most trusted players on a predominantly new-look roster, was crucial in helping establish the early lead.
Perry nearly posted a double-double in the first half alone, scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds. Perry ended up with the double-double, posting 12 points and 14 rebounds. Of Perry’s rebounds, four came on the offensive glass, which helped Temple consistently put points on the board.
In most cases, a team with a new-look roster and a shortened preseason meets serious roadblocks. But, Temple played as a cohesive unit that ensured the ball was spread around the floor.
The Owls hope newcomers like Williams and Dunn can reach the level of reliability of mainstays like Perry and the team can improve from last season’s performance.
Temple’s next game is Dec. 22 on the road against Houston (4-0, 0-0 The American).