Written By: Drew Bishop
Photo Courtesy of: Temple Men’s Basketball Twitter
Temple started off with their best half of the season and rode that momentum to a decisive victory against Tulsa, 76-67.
The Liacouras Center was devoid of fans, but any other year it would have been rocking. The Owls’ offense was clicking on all fronts in the first half, as they raced out to a 44-25 lead going into the locker room. The Golden Hurricane have been known to flirt with late-game comebacks, so it was no surprise that they were able to shorten the deficit from 19 to 9 in the second half.
“They’re never out of games. I’ve watched them win two, three games this year, being down 15 or 20 points at the half. They’re a tough-minded group. We had to hold on tight to bring this one home,” said head coach Aaron McKie.
A major storyline of this matchup was Tulsa’s relentless defense. They came into the game ranked 9th in the nation in opponent’s FG% (37.8%). Temple was able to fracture that statistic, shooting 51% from the field.
A huge proponent of that was the sophomore transfer, Khalif Battle. When Temple has had offensive success this year, it has been driven by names like Damian Dunn, Jake Forrester, even Brendan Barry. Against the Golden Hurricane, however, Battle was the star of the show. He had a career-high and game-high 22 points (6-10 FG) to go along with his 11 rebounds and three assists. He showed his athleticism all night, scoring in a flurry of ways, including a couple of impressive and-1’s.
Battle has only played three games this season but has already filled a critical rotation spot for the Owls. He credited his improvement to the individual film study he does with Coach McKie after every game. When asked about these film sessions, McKie responded:
“What I try to tell Khalif is that I want him to defend and rebound at a high level. He’s gonna be fine offensively; there’s a lot of different things he can do offensively to help us. I don’t want that to be his main focus. Who we are and how we are gonna win is on that defensive end. I need him engaged and doing that as well.”
Out of all of Battle’s achievements, the end of the game was his highest honor. He sank the final free throw to put Temple’s total at 76, enough to secure free tacos for fans at the North Broad street Qdoba.
While the game was filled with positives for the Owls, one takeaway was their inexperienced closing five making mistakes down the stretch. With Damian Dunn and Jake Forrester fouled out, McKie turned to a lineup of Perry, Moorman II, Barry, Battle, and Williams with three minutes to go.
Tulsa’s press defense was able to force the Owls to commit back-to-back turnovers without crossing midcourt. The Golden Hurricane capitalized off both possessions, cutting the lead to eight with two minutes to go. If Temple’s first-half lead was not as wide, those late-game turnovers could have made the difference between a win and a loss.
“Be poised, focus on the next play, not the last one. The last one’s over, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Stay focused,” said captain Dre Perry on how the team can close games better.
The senior big man was another pivotal part of the victory. Perry ended with 17 points on 6-7 shooting in 27 minutes. While Khalif Battle provided the backcourt scoring, Perry’s inside shooting led to easy buckets. This all came after he went scoreless in Temple’s 17 point defeat against Houston on Saturday.
After his big game, Dre Perry’s message was short and sweet.
“Every day isn’t gonna be your day. Keep putting in the work and trust the process.
The Owls will continue to do as most great Philadelphia teams do and heed Perry’s advice. The win slots them 4-4 overall, with their only losses coming against SMU and Houston.
Their next scheduled game comes Sunday, February 1st, versus the Tulane Green Wave. The last time the two teams played was on January 16th, when Temple won 65-57.
Listen live at 12:30 p.m. on WHIP Radio for the pregame, followed by the live broadcast at 1 p.m. from the Liacouras Center.