Photo By: Ben Solomon
In a year that’s felt like a decade, Temple and USF played a final two minutes that felt like a game in itself. Once the dust settled, USF won its second ever AAC conference tournament game in a 73-71 victory over the Owls.
Temple had an opportunity. Following two missed free throws by USF guard David Collins, J.P. Moorman II pulled down the board and outletted the ball to Khalif Battle. With five seconds remaining, the star of the season’s closing stretch charged downhill and attempted to change directions in order to get to the basket.
In the movement, Battle dribbled the ball off his foot and Collins dove on it. A number of Owls rushed to the sophomore guard’s side to console him. Bitterly upset, they walked him off the floor, arm-in-arm together to the locker room.
“I just made a mistake,” Battle said postgame. Clearly emotional, the transfer from Butler spoke for nearly five minutes, recounting McKie’s advice following the error and assuring the Owls would be back next season.
“Grow from this, learn from this,” McKie recalled telling Battle. “I gave him a situation I was in, a late game situation and I didn’t come through. It’s part of the journey.”
Battle finished as the team’s leading scorer with 18 points and added in 10 rebounds, his third double-double of the season. He also tied a season-high with five assists. In sum, to lay blame on Battle in a shortsighted look at the end of this game’s highlight reel.
On the USF side of the game, senior guard David Collins had a career night. He poured in 23 points, the first time he’s hit the 20+ mark in over a year, and played Battle tough in the second half. Forward Michael Durr also came up huge, finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds while being a shot blocking presence in the paint.
That work in the paint is what has been the difference for USF in the three matchups with Temple this season and provided a back breaking play late in the game. Off a missed free throw by Collins with 20 seconds left in the game and Temple trailing 69-67, four Owls were caught watching the ball as Jamir Chaplin came racing under the bucket to the ball to get a putback layup.
“That’s the game,” McKie said postgame. “It’s what we talked about all week. We said that the team that won the paint battle was going to win the game. We didn’t do that.”
The only reason the Owls even stood a chance in the closing seconds was because of the heroics of Brendan Barry, who rattled off a personal 9-0 run over a minute stretch to bring the Owls within two. The transfer from Dartmouth stole a pass and took it to the corner and fired away to get the run started.
Barry was the only Owl who knocked down a triple in the second half. The team struggled mightily from the field, including a 2-of-20 stretch after knocking down the first field goal of the half. In fact, after leading 25-16 with less than eight minutes left in the first half, the team shot 32.6% from the field.
The stretch from Barry was reminiscent of an early season stretch where the sharpshooter buoyed an Owls team that was searching for any source of an identity on the offensive end. Barry finished the season with a 45.3% clip from beyond the arc, a mark that ties Juan Fernandez’s 2009-10 season for third best in program history. It is still unknown if Barry will return with his free year of eligibility.
“(Barry’s) one of those guys that when he gets it going, you just hold your breath because he can really get it going,” USF coach Brian Gregory said.
The game opened with a hot stretch from Temple, the Owls lept out to a 19-8 lead. Their offense looked similar to the model that McKie has long sought with seven assists on eight made buckets. At the time, they were outworking USF on the boards.
It was the type of flash that Temple had been accustomed to this year, but the ending was yet another familiar sight. A talented squad that just didn’t quite have enough experience together and had one too many unforced lapses to win when it mattered.
There’s certainly a future for this team. On the interior, Jake Forrester improved in many regards and this team was different when he was on the floor. Nick Jourdain came into his own over the season’s final games, cracking the starting lineup and showing a growing all-around game. The young backcourt has been written out at nauseam.
Yet, potential is only the hope of the future. The Temple program of the now has to go back home and reassess where to go from here. Decisions need to be made on the futures of Barry, Moorman and Dre Perry. The young core has to remain bought in on the promise of a bright future. McKie and staff have to look at how to reign in some of the consistent woes this team faced.
“I feel comfortable in saying that we got some good young pieces as we continue to move forward,” McKie said postgame. “We just want to add some pieces around them to really complete the puzzle.”