Khalif Battle shows glimpse of a bright future in Owls’ 68-51 loss

Photo credit: Zamani Feelings

As a team, it’s been well documented that the Owls had to wait longer than most Division 1 programs to take the floor in the 2020-21 college basketball season. For sophomore guard Khalif Battle, that wait was extended by nearly two months by a hamstring injury that kept him away from the basketball court.

However, in just his second game back after wrapping up his first full week of practice, the Trenton native flashed potential in a 68-51 loss to Houston on Saturday afternoon. Battle scored a career-high 14 points, increasingly aggressive on the offensive end in his 32 minutes of action.

Between the desire to score and how pure his jumper appeared, Battle looks to be on track to be the scoring threat the Owls believe they landed when he transferred to Temple from Butler in April. These things take time, though, as Battle still shows signs of rust. 

“This is my first week really touching the basketball so it’s been a while. [I’m] still trying to get my wind back, still trying to get my rhythm back,” Battle explained postgame. “It’s a struggle right now but you know the coaches and players instill confidence in myself so I’m just trying to get things rolling again.”

The appearance of his jumper makes it seem like everyone he lets go has a good chance of finding the bottom of the bucket, but the numbers aren’t an indicator of that yet. Battle was 4-15 from the field in Saturday’s win and now has a 21% shooting percentage in his two games this season. For those box score scanning, it’s going to give the wrong impression.

On multiple occasions, Battle rose to take difficult shots, a welcome addition to a team in dire need of a player who can create for themself at a high level. Not every shot was advised, but it’s a dynamic to this offense that has not been there this season.

“I love his aggression,” Temple head coach Aaron McKie said postgame. “He’s learning. [Battle’s shot selection] is something we will continue to work on, but I like his aggression and his attack mode. We need guys like that out on the floor so I’m okay with that.”

The volume scorer role is nothing new for him, Battle scored 30+ points 11 times in his senior year of high school and graduated a 1,000-point scorer from Trenton Catholic, despite missing his entire sophomore year due to injury. At this level, however, Battle is seeing his first real extended look in a heavy workload.

In just two games for the Owls, he’s been on the floor more minutes than he saw in his last five games combined at Butler. He played 33 minutes in his collegiate debut last season but never again played more than 19 minutes in a Butler uniform. That, the distanced offseason and the hamstring injury all are factors that make him an inexperienced sophomore and will hinder his on-floor chemistry in the early going.

“He’ll end up playing a lot of minutes for us,” McKie said postgame. “We just have to keep working him in, getting him into the flow of what we’re doing.”

Outside of his scoring, Battle has been active on the boards, pulling down six in both games that he’s played in. It’s not entirely surprising, given that he’s a 6-5 guard, but it certainly helps his case to stay on the floor and have the Owls play more small ball in the coming weeks. 

With he and guard Brendan Barry being prominent scoring weapons off the bench, there could be a case to see extended minutes of a lineup that features forward JP Moorman as the only big man with Barry, Battle and guards Jeremiah Williams and Damian Dunn flanking Moorman on the perimeter. 

No matter how he ends up getting used, his growth and attacking nature is going to be a key for this team’s progress moving forward. While spreading the scoring out is great, Battle is the one player that has shown a true flash and knack for scoring from every level, a necessity on the roster to compete in this conference.

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