Heading into its second season under head coach Aaron McKie, Temple University men’s basketball approached a crossroads.
With a significant amount of departures, McKie was tasked with assembling a rotation from scratch. The influx of unfamiliar faces forced him to show trust in several new players.
The 2019-20 Owls featured five players who logged at least 500 total minutes. Four of them, Quinton Rose, Nate Pierre-Louis, Alani Moore II and Monty Scott, were guards. None of the four returned for the 2020-21 season, leaving a gaping hole for all of McKie’s newcomers to fill.
On both ends of the floor, the Owls have gotten noteworthy value from three guards who have entrenched themselves in the rotation and helped the Owls get out to a 3-3 start, including winning two straight games in American Athletic Conference play.
Despite the departure of multiple key players, McKie’s team is proving it can adapt over time.
Damian Dunn, a redshirt-freshman guard, is the Owls’ leading scorer this season, averaging 15.8 points per game. But Dunn’s 35.7 field goal percentage isn’t as high as one would expect from a team’s leading scorer. His unorthodox playstyle, predicated on drawing fouls, has created an opportunity for him to assert himself as one of the team’s most pivotal players.
Dunn is attempting an average of 8.8 free throws per game, which leads all players in The American and ranks third in the nation. Despite being a redshirt-freshman with little experience, he additionally leads The American in free throws made per game.
Dunn is also one of the team’s leaders in assists, averaging 2.7 per game.
“We’re starting to build more trust in each other as the season continues,” Dunn said after the Owls defeated Central Florida by a score of 62-55 on Thursday.
Dunn’s starting backcourt mate, freshman guard Jeremiah Williams, is the Owls’ team leader in assists, averaging 3.8 per game. Despite being a freshman, Williams has been entrusted to keep the team in order as its point guard.
“He’s got to run the team on one end,” McKie said. “And he’s got to defend the best offensive players on the other.”
McKie is showing his confidence in Williams by giving him more responsibility than any other player on the team, he added.
“It’s a lot that we’re throwing at him,” McKie said. “But if I didn’t think he could do it, I wouldn’t have put him into the game.”
Additionally, the team has found a reliable offensive player coming off the bench in graduate student guard Brendan Barry, an excellent shooter.
As a team with so many new faces, the Owls have been able to search for a unique identity on the court. One of the most integral aspects of their newfound style on offense is Barry’s shooting ability, whose presence opens up the floor and makes scoring and facilitating easier for the rest of the team, McKie said.
“When [Barry] is open, he’s definitely going to knock it down,” McKie said of his trust in Barry, who transferred in from Dartmouth.
Barry is a renowned shooter, currently leading The American in 3-point percentage. Barry is making 54.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, more than 15 percentage points higher than second.
“We’re a young team still learning how to play with each other,” Barry said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:28 p.m. on Jan. 19 to reflect that Damian Dunn became ranked third in average attempted free throws per game in the nation on Jan. 19.