After an upset victory on the road against No. 1 ranked Houston (29-2, 17-1 American Athletic Conference) on Jan. 22, it seemed like Temple was finally starting to figure things out offensively. The unlikely win helped sparked a four-game win streak that catapulted the Owls to third in the conference standings.
Temple then lost four consecutive games in the last few weeks of the regular season, including a 72-71 loss to SMU, (10-21, 5-13 The American) a team who spent the entire season near the bottom of the conference standings.
Temple is also without guard Khalif Battle, who was averaging a team-best 17.9 points per game, after he left the team due to personal reasons. He is not expected to return for the remainder of the season.
“We’re just moving on,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “Nothing’s changed. We’re just going with the guys that we got.”
Without Battle, Temple has relied on guard Damian Dunn to take control of the backcourt. In games without Battle, Dunn has averaged 22.5 points, including a 34 point performance in the Owls’ overtime loss to Cincinnati (20-11, 11-7 The American) on Feb. 22.
While Dunn has impressed as the offensive focal point, Temple will need more help. Here are three players that must step up if the Owls hope to make a deep tournament run.
When Reynolds is on the floor, Temple’s offense runs much more smoothly. When the Owls are unable to get the ball to Reynolds down low, their guards are forced to settle for contested jump shots that oftentimes are not converted.
In games where Reynolds has logged more than 23 minutes, he has averaged 14.4 points per game this season. After missing more than a month due to thumb surgery on Dec. 15, Reynolds struggled to stay on the floor for extended periods of time, logging more than 20 minutes just three times since his return.
“I want [Reynolds] out on the floor,” McKie said on Feb. 16. “I want him to play and out there on the floor. We need to get him in the physical condition to play those heavy minutes.
After seven consecutive games scoring less than 12 points, Reynolds finally broke through for a 17 point performance in Temple’s regular season finale against Tulane (19-10, 12-6 The American) on March 5.
When Reynolds is at his best, he draws double teams in the low post, allowing for shooters like Dunn and forward Zach Hicks to get open looks from beyond the arc. Reynolds must stay on the floor for extended minutes if the Owls’ hope to make a run in the tournament.
After a slow start to the season, Miller has emerged as an important piece for Temple down the stretch. In the Owls’ last six games, he has scored more than 10 points on four occasions, including a 17 point performance against Wichita State (16-14, 9-9 The American) on Feb. 16.
While he has proven to be a capable scorer that the team can typically rely on to convert on open looks, Miller’s 3.7 assists per game are also a team high. His ability to find the open teammate has been just as important as his scoring. Temple is 4-1 this season in games where Miller records seven or more assists.
“He’s just running the team and managing the team,” McKie said about Miller on Nov. 18. “Sometimes we get ourselves in trouble with turnovers. [Miller] is able to settle us and bring us back in.”
Dunn and Miller can both control the floor and run the point guard position, but limiting turnovers while still being able to find open teammates in transition will be key in orchestrating a deep tournament run.
Entering the season, there was significant buzz surrounding the emergence of Hicks as a scorer. In the past, Hicks has relied solely on the three-point shot and has struggled to create mid-range opportunities or drive to the basket.
Hicks still relied mainly on the three-point shot this season. 76 of his 98 made field goal attempts this season have come from beyond the arc. Temple’s staff was definitely hoping for Hicks to score from more spots on the floor this year, but he has still been an effective three-point specialist, shooting 35 percent from three.
In Temple’s last seven games, Hicks has shot higher than his season average from beyond the arc just three times. In the last two games, he made just a combined five of his 21 three-point attempts.
If Hicks can establish his presence from behind the three-point line early in the tournament, it will also free up Reynolds from underneath the basket and draw off the double team and help the team continue their tournament run.