For the second consecutive season, Temple Men’s Basketball (2-4, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) went 1-2 during Feast Week and played in the last-place game of an early-season tournament. All three games in 2021 were part of the Charleston Classic. This year, it was the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase and the Empire Classic.
The Owls’ hopes at an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament are dim after Tuesday night’s 61-49 loss to the University of Richmond (3-3, 0-0 Atlantic 10).
In their non-conference schedule, Rutgers University (5-1, 0-0 Big Ten) – who the Owls beat on Nov. 18 – and Saint John’s University (7-0, 0-0 Big East) – the 2022 Empire Classic champions – were Temple’s last two chances to earn resume-building wins. Pending Wagner University’s (3-2, 0-0 Northeast Conference) conference tournament result, St. John’s is the only acceptable defeat out of Temple’s four. With the recent losses, the Owls are approaching conference championship-or-bust territory.
“You have to have that desperation,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “Everything matters, winning matters and playing as a team matters. That’s what helps you and that’s what gets you through these moments. If you sit, and you sulk and woe is me, then you’re going to be in trouble.”
Here’s what’s been happening with the Owls:
Lack of discipline
The Owls have recorded 89 turnovers compared to just 81 assists throughout six games. Temple also committed just fewer than 19 fouls per game, giving teams too many chances at the stripe. No team, especially one that labeled itself as “tournament-or-bust,” can expect to win with that consistent trend.
Temple has held a lead of nine or more points in each game this season. However, the Owls consistently go on scoring droughts where they turn the ball over and allow opposing teams to get out in transition and swing the momentum of games.
Against an injured Rutgers team, Temple almost fell victim to a comeback because it could not handle the full-court press. Against St. John’s, the Owls ultimately crumbled all the way. After taking a 72-70 lead, the Owls allowed an and-one by junior point guard Andre Curbelo to put the Red Storm up by one. On the next play, fourth-year sophomore guard Damian Dunn dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds. Temple went on to lose that game 78-72.
The four-out-one-in offense that Temple is running isn’t working. As McKie regularly points out, the Owls stand around the perimeter for too long without any movement off the ball. Richmond exposed Temple’s offense when the Spiders decided to use their quickest players to double-team sophomore center Jamille Reynolds in the post and rotate back into position. With him eliminated, the ball kept going back to a stagnant hand and killing the shot clock.
Temple practices sets to avoid this, but they don’t get used enough in games. The Owls need sophomore point guard Hysier Miller to take the next step as a floor general and begin to command the offense, navigate the press and create open shots for teammates.
McKie deserves some blame for continuously allowing his team to go through slumps, often throughout the same stretches of games. However, players’ actions should be questioned and held to higher standards.
“Stop blaming my coach,” fourth-year sophomore shooting guard Khalif Battle tweeted on Nov. 23. “He’s not out on the floor. It’s on us.”
Dunn has gone cold after averaging almost 30 points per game through his first three outings, the most in the country at the time. He is averaging 6.3 points on 4-of-22 shooting during the last three games. After seeing Temple struggling to handle the press, opposing teams have begun guarding the Owls for the full 94 feet of the court, which has affected Dunn the most.
Dunn’s game is predicated on pace and his strength to gain separation and get into a rhythm, not for creating space off the dribble. Without any room to begin that process, the preseason all-conference guard is in a slump and averaging 3.8 turnovers per game on the year.
“He’s been playing basketball for a long time,” McKie said.“He’s one of our playmakers, and we need him out there.”
Sophomore forward Jahlil White has been the prime example of Temple’s foul troubles. The Owls’ best defender has played in five games and committed 21 personal fouls, fouling out of two games and reaching the allowed four fouls twice.
The Owls will have a chance to correct their issues today as they host City 6 rival Drexel University (3-3, 0-0 Colonial Athletic Association).