Temple suffers third loss in defeat to St. John’s at Empire Classic

Temple Men’s Basketball could not capitalize on key possessions down the stretch and sits at 3-2 after five games.

Redshirt sophomore guard Khalif Battle scored 17 points during the Owl's game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. EARL KUFEN | THE TEMPLE NEWS

BROOKLYN, New York – With 53 seconds remaining in the game, Temple redshirt sophomore Damian Dunn drove to the basket but dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds — a key indicator of Dunn’s cold night after he shot 25 percent from the field and missed two big threes down the stretch. 

Temple could not keep up with St. Johns’ pace of play and struggled to advance the ball throughout the second half. The Owls are now unlikely to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in March due to their inefficiency during the middle of second halves.

“We obviously got to keep the turnovers down,” said Temple head coach Aaron McKie. “I didn’t think we particularly did a good job at one, taking care of the ball and two, getting back in transition.”

Temple Men’s Basketball (2-3, 0-0 The American Athletic Conference) was defeated by St. John’s University (5-0, 0-0 The Big East) 78-72 on Monday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

Redshirt sophomore guard Khalif Battle picked up right where he left off from last game, scoring 17 points to accompany three rebounds. Battle put up 24 in Temple’s 72-66 victory against Rutgers University (3-1, 0-0 The Big Ten Conference) Friday night. 

Battle began the game by shooting well, scoring 10 points on 66.7 percent shooting within the first 12 minutes of regulation. When he came off the bench, he brought the shotmaking ability needed against high-scoring opponents, like the Red Storm. 

As the game progressed, Temple’s guards seemed to fade into the background, missing many shots and paving the way for Temple sophomore center Jamille Reynolds to take over. 

In the paint, Temple’s Reynolds seemed to have finally met his match in St. John’s senior center Joel Soriano. 

Soriano entered the game averaging 12.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Against the Owls, Soriano scored 15 points and brought down 12 boards, each more than his average. The Owls were outscored 52 to 26 in the paint.

Even with an equal matchup down low, Reynolds showed he is capable of more than post moves, stepping outside the arc for a three with seven minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the first half. He also made all four of his free throw attempts. 

Reynolds came out in the second half with even more energy down low.

“I felt like I was getting outworked,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t like that feeling.”

Reynolds finished the contest with 21 points and eight rebounds, another big game for the University of Central Florida transfer. 

When McKie subbed Reynolds out, Temple’s bigs continued their sloppy performances. Graduate forward Kur Jongkuch was a liability, giving up huge plays on defense, like a mammoth dunk from Soriano that got the crowd on their feet. 

Temple’s trend of starting games out hot continued with the Owls jumping out to a 25-12 lead with about seven minutes left in the first half. However, it didn’t take long for the Red Storm to come back and tie the game with less than three minutes left in the period. 

Temple gave up five turnovers during St. Johns’ 16-3 run in the first half, with the Red Storm’s quick defense causing issues for the Owls. Temple entered the half with 13 turnovers, after averaging only 13.0 turnovers per game all season entering tonight’s contest. 

“We turned the ball over and made them turn it over a bit,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson. “If there’s a half you want to win then it’s that second half.”

The Red Storm’s press with the likes of junior guards Andre Curbelo, Dylan Addae-Wusu and Posh Alexander, forced many of the Owls’ mistakes. Additionally, Dunn and Battle did not bring the same ball-handling ability that sophomore guard Hysier Miller possessed, preventing the Owls from easily advancing the ball. 

In a game of runs, it seems like Temple has been incapable of stringing together a consistent 40 minutes of play yet this season. The Owls had some strong possessions, but never enough consecutive ones to generate consistent offensive production. St. John’s went on multiple runs where they scored at least four baskets to Temple’s zero. 

“We just got to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” Battle said. “We’re going to figure it out, watch film and learn from it.”

Temple will play against the University of Richmond (2-3, 0-0 The Atlantic-10 Conference) in the second round of the Empire Classic on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Barclays Center. 

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