Temple shaking things up in final months of the season

Temple Men’s Basketball has been implementing new lineups and bench roles as conference play continues.

Khalif Battle and Damian Dunn average a combined 32.2 points per game this season. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Men’s Basketball stands at 10-9 with a 4-2 conference record and is officially in a position to play for a bid in the National Invitation Tournament. 

The Owls finished with a 6-7 non-conference record, having too many bad losses – like buy game losses to Wagner University (9-7, 2-3 Northeast Conference) and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (9-8, 2-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) – and not enough quality wins. 

The “tournament-or-bust” Owls now have to settle for the NIT if they don’t win March’s American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We’re still taking it game by game,” said guard Damian Dunn. “It’s never too late. We’re still going to stay on pace to win games.”

With preseason goals out of the picture, the Owls started shaking things up with their starting lineup after Dunn suffered a head injury against Maryland Eastern Shore. Dunn and Khalif Battle, both redshirt-sophomores in their fourth year of eligibility, were named to the AAC’s preseason all-conference teams. However, neither guard is in Temple’s current starting lineup, instead coming off the bench as co-sixth men.

Both Dunn and Battle are guards that need the ball in their hands to be effective. Battle, the epitome of a shooting guard, is a gifted isolation scorer with NBA aspirations and relies on his quickness and dribble combinations to score. 

Dunn is a slower, more physical combo guard that focuses on contact and getting to different spots on the floor, whether they be his sweet spots or soft spots in the defense. 

“It gives the other guys a chance to get their motor and their juices going,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “We know what to expect out of Dame and KB when they come in the game. They’re still playing the same amount of minutes.”

Aside from Temple’s lackluster performance, another reason for the shakeup is the absence of sophomore center Jamille Reynolds. Reynolds hasn’t played since the Owls’ Dec. 10 loss at the University of Pennsylvania (9-10, 2-3 Ivy League) after suffering a broken thumb. 

Reynolds provided the Owls with a low-post scoring threat for the first time in McKie’s coaching career. The Owls needed to adjust their strategy without the big man, relying on the sophomores they hope will fill out next year’s starting lineup with Reynolds.

Guards Hysier Miller and Shane Dezonie, along with forwards Zach Hicks and Jahlil White, are expected to round out next season’s starting five with Reynolds; all have seen starts and an increase in minutes during Reynolds’ absence. Miller and White have been the primary facilitators for Temple, making sure the Owls’ offense doesn’t get stagnant. 

Miller has been Temple’s full-time starting point guard this season, a fork in Temple’s plans as the Owls’ former point guard Jeremiah Williams, who transferred to Iowa State University last April, was expected to be with the program for a little longer. 

He gained starting experience last season when Williams missed time with multiple injuries, earning McKie’s trust to be Temple’s floor general.

“I want him to be the manager of the team,” McKie said. “Making sure everybody is in position, getting us organized and get your other guys going. You set the table for everybody else and now your opportunities are going to come.”

In order to win with this new rotation once Reynolds returns, Miller must get Hicks open looks on the perimeter and feed Reynolds around the rim. Dezonie, a transfer from Vanderbilt University who’s becoming increasingly comfortable with the team, must be Temple’s isolation scorer in the starting unit. 

“I felt like it took me a while to really get comfortable,” Dezonie said. “I feel like now, we’re starting to play together and I’m just starting to feel more comfortable in my spot.”

Then, Dunn and Battle can come off the bench to provide Temple with a scoring spark in the second unit. With Reynolds back, the Owls won’t need to rely on graduate transfer center Kur Jongkuch and can provide sophomore forward Nick Jourdain quality minutes as a small ball center. Having Jourdain on the floor with Dunn and Battle leaves the paint open, creating easy layup opportunities for the all-conference backcourt.

Temple is now at a point in its season where it begins to play teams for the second time this year, making both sides have to work harder for victories. The Owls host East Carolina University (10-9, 1-5 The American) on Wednesday in a rematch of Temple’s 59-57 victory in Greenville on Dec. 28.

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