The storyline before Temple Men’s Basketball’s season opener was how new head coach Adam Fisher would approach his coaching debut on Broad Street. Throughout the offseason, Fisher had promised to implement a fast-paced offense that emphasized three-point shooting and aggressive play on both ends of the floor.
In Temple’s first game of the season, Fisher delivered on that promise, despite struggling to score at times.
The Owls (1-0, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated Maryland Eastern Shore (0-1, 0-0 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) 85-65 Monday in its season opener at The Liacouras Center. Though the Owls struggled to get shots to fall, their defense held the lead for most of the night.
The win marked the first of the Adam Fisher era, as he became the 12th Temple head coach to win his debut game.
“It’s a great experience having to get the first one out of the way,” Fisher said. “It’s special to me because my family got to be a big part of it, having about 50 people in the stands. My wife and daughter, like that’s something really special. Having my parents and brother, his family, and then a lot of people that have supported me since I was a student manager.”
After a slow start in the first minute of play, guard Matteo Picarelli drilled a three-pointer to get the scoring going. While the Owls were aggressive early, they were unable to convert on their chances, shooting just 32 percent from the field in the first half.
Forward Jahlil White was a driving force for Temple, leading the way in the first half with 10 points. White and guard Hysier Miller anchored multiple runs, with Miller slamming a dunk and White converting a layup off a turnover as part of a 6-0 Owls run midway through the first half.
The early shooting woes weren’t a problem, as the Owls managed to build a seven-point lead on the Hawks. When the Hawks attempted to get back into the game, the Owls instantly responded with an 11-point run to build the lead to 19. The Owls entered halftime up 12, but the game felt like a bigger blowout than the score indicated.
“Really proud of our effort,” Fisher said. “I felt we were really connected. We talked about it a lot, not being a feel-good team. I didn’t think we made a lot of shots early in the game, but it was our defense, our activity, and just the way we stayed together.”
While the Owls’ offense struggled at times, the defense contained the Hawks’ offense throughout the night.
Highlighted by White and center Emmanuel Okpomo, Temple’s defense forced five turnovers and blocked three shots. The Hawks’ offense could not find a groove and shot just 35 percent on the night and had multiple dry spells.
The Owls put an end to their shooting struggles coming out of the half and quickly pulled away, putting the game out of reach. After two straight misses, Temple went on a scoring barrage, putting their next nine shots in the net to build a 59-38 lead.
Temple brought in multiple new faces, and each had an impact on the Owls’ success. Freshman guard Zion Stanford was the standout, lighting a spark for the team off the bench. Stanford finished with 14 points, with 12 coming in the second half.
“Playing [Division I] basketball has been the dream since I started playing basketball,” Stanford said. “Being able to make my family proud, make the people that look up to me proud and stuff like that, is definitely an honor.”
Picarelli provided the Owls with a boost from outside the arc. The Milan, Italy, native led the team from three with two three-pointers.
Howard transfer Steve Settle III struggled on the offensive side of the court. The Temple forward made just one of his seven field goal attempts, and the majority of his seven points came from the free-throw line.
Settle helped the defensive side of the court despite his offensive struggles, finishing with eight rebounds. He and the rest of the defense held the Hawks to just 65 points.
White and Miller were dubbed the leaders for the Owls throughout the offseason, and they delivered as such, scoring 32 combined points in the rout. White played more aggressively than he did last season, showcasing the willingness to shoot the ball without hesitation. White’s performance also extended to the boards, grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds.
“It’s nothing but effort,” White said. “Just going hard every possession and trying to outwork my opponents to get the rebound.”
Temple will look to build on the win when they take on Navy (0-0,0-0 Patriot League) at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.