Temple Outlasts ECU to Win AAC Opener in Defensive Battle

Written by: Declan Landis

Photo by: Val Pendrak

As graduate forward Kur Jongkuch came down with his ninth rebound off Javon Small’s missed layup, a collective sigh of relief fell over the Temple bench with 11 seconds to play.

The Owls (7-7, 1-0 in AAC) beat East Carolina (9-5, 0-1 in AAC) 59-57 in Williams Arena in Greenville, NC, to earn their first win in American Athletic Conference play and snap a three-game losing streak.

The win came in a defensive battle, with both teams struggling to score at times throughout the contest. ECU failed to hit a field goal for over nine minutes to end the first half, while Temple went on several smaller scoreless runs in the second half.

The Owls defense, however, stepped up in the final minutes, forcing tough shots from the Pirates and capitalizing on the other end.

“We got off to a good start defensively,” Temple head coach Aaron McKie said. “Our guys were flying around the floor, and it showed what we were capable of.”

Temple led for most of the second half, but after the Pirates took a 47-45 lead with 4:26 left in the game, Khalif Battle hit a step-back three to give the Owls a one-point lead. This gave the Owls enough momentum to go up by as many as six points with over three minutes to play. 

Battle, who came off the bench, led all scorers with 18 points.

Sophomore guard Hysier Miller, who finished with eight points, also hit an important three with 1:42 left, putting Temple in the lead for good.

Though ECU was able to cut the lead to as little as two points, the Owls kept the Pirates at arms-length, playing strong defense and hitting free throws when it mattered. Temple went 12-18 from the free throw line for the game.

“It’s huge,” McKie said about getting off to a good start in conference play with the win. “You saw how this game played out. They’re going to be a pretty good team this year. They’re well-coached and well-connected, and all the teams in this conference are like that.”

Temple was without Damian Dunn, who did not play due to being in concussion protocol, according to ESPN. Dunn, the second-leading scorer on the team, missed the Owls’ lowest-scoring win of the season so far, but he was present at the game, sitting on the bench.

In Dunn’s place, sophomore guard Jahlil White scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds, including a big rebound to put the game away with seven seconds left.

Sophomore forward Nick Jourdain had an impressive showing, putting up nine points, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. Though he fouled out late in the game, he was an important anchor on the defense for the Owls, who lost sophomore forward Jamille Reynolds to injury for another three-to-five weeks.

This close road victory is a sign of things to come for the Owls according to McKie, who points out how tough the opponents in the AAC will be. 

“The American is a tough conference that doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” he said. “There are some great coaches in this conference. It’s a big, physical, older conference, so we’re going to have our hands full like this every night.”

The Owls’ next game is against Cincinnati at the Liacouras Center January 1 at 3 p.m.

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