Temple loses fifth in a row, Tulsa tops Owls 72-66

In a sequence late in the first half, Temple had gotten exactly the look they wanted. Sophomore guard Khalif Battle drove downhill and passed it back for graduate transfer Brendan Barry, standing wide open from beyond the arc.

The pass however was too far behind Barry, leading to a heavily contested heave that provided nothing on the scoreboard.

Like so many times this season, the idea and talent to achieve what they are looking for is there. The execution, however, is not.

In a game that felt like one too many before it, Temple (4-9, 3-9 AAC) fell 72-66 to Tulsa (10-9, 7-7) at the Reynolds Center on Tuesday night. A fiery comeback provided excitement until the final horn, but turnovers and poor shooting in the game’s first 30 minutes proved too much for the team to overcome. 

“It’s something we talk about every single day, something we put on the board, every single day about taking care of the ball,” said head coach Aaron McKie postgame. “I thought we dug a hole for ourselves with that early on and we couldn’t recover from it.”

The turnovers are not a new phenomenon. It’s been a well documented struggle for the Owls, who committed 19 of them in Tuesday night’s contest, pushing their season average to 13.5 per game. 

For basketball purists, the first half one to stay away from. The Golden Hurricane turned the Owls over 13 times in a variety of different ways. Traveling violations in careless spots, attempts to fit passes into nonexistent windows and sloppy ball control all played a factor.

Beyond that, the Owls did not shoot the ball well either in the early going. Playing without leading scorer Damian Dunn, the offense was stagnant and shades of the “stuck” offense that McKie has groaned about all season were on full display. The team shot 33.3% from the field and only mustered up 22 points in what was one of the worst offensive halves of the season for the AAC’s second-worst scoring offense.

“For every good thing we do, it’s like something else is about to happen,” McKie said. “We’ll get better with that as the game starts to slow down for these younger guys. They’ll get better at it, but for right now, it’s a painful process for us and our guys again…hopefully they’re learning from these situations and hopefully we get better from the situation.”

The lone bright spot existed in the renaissance of Battle’s ability to score the basketball in an efficient manner. The guard poured in 21 points on 6-13 shooting (4-7 from three) and pulled down seven rebounds. It’s the type of bounce back performance Battle needed after a rough stretch of shooting since the last time the Owls played Tulsa.

In fact, Battle is averaging 21.5 points per game on 52.2% shooting from the field in the two games against Tulsa and averaging 8.3 points per game on 23.6% shooting from the field in his six other games of action. Isolating numbers is a funny thing because they can be manipulated to find trends that aren’t there. 

Has he played well against Tulsa? Sure. Is there anything to that? Maybe, but the reality is he just has found rhythm in those games that hasn’t been there for many others. That is understandable given the injury, the nonexistent offseason and the fact that he’s hardly played with his teammates. 

“I’m just trying to be the same Khalif Battle everyday,” Battle said of the inconsistencies in his play thus far. “That’s about it.”

The games waning minutes provided the aforementioned Temple comeback that was guided by a pair of true freshmen getting an extended look. Quincy Ademokoya showed off his shot making ability while Nick Jourdain was active in a number of facets of the game, including showing a good awareness passing the basketball.

Ademokoya scored his first points in the month of February, scored a season high nine points and played the second most minutes of his career. The three point stroke just looks promising with the rest of his game filling out around him. As for Jourdain, he noted to Sam Cohn of OwlScoop.com over the summer that he was “a project” but has seen an uptick in minutes as Jake Forrester struggles with foul trouble and Arashma Parks struggles.

Aaron McKie said that he is going to “get them small bites of the apple” in regards to getting them into games for the time being. The general plan is to get them acquainted to the game speed through small stretches so as to not overwhelm what they are developing into.

“There will be times at practice where Quincy will be just hitting eight threes or Nick is having a field day out there on the offensive glass just getting dunks or whatever he wants,” Battle said of his teammates. “They’re going to be a key piece of what we are trying to accomplish moving forward.

As for Tulsa, Elijah Joiner led the way offensively with 17 points, 14 of which came in the second half. The true star, however, may have been Brandon Rachal’s defensive effort, racking up four steals before fouling out in the second half.

It was a resurgent game for Tulsa. The team had struggled recently, losing five of six leading into Tuesday’s game and averaged just 62 points per game over that stretch. Most notably was their turnover problem, averaging 14.5 per game over those six games.

The Golden Hurricane only had seven in the win. Winning a basketball game by two possessions when holding a +12 turnover margin doesn’t leave many questions as to where the source of success was. 

For Temple, it’s a matter of how they can become the team that executes in that regard going forward. The Owls next scheduled game is next Wednesday at home against USF at 7pm.

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