Temple’s Team Improvements Shine in 2nd Loss Against Houston

Written By: Drew Bishop

Photo Courtesy of Temple Men’s Basketball Twitter

A month after their first matchup, the result was the same as Houston defeated Temple 68-51 for their 13th win of the season. 

The two squads had most recently faced off on December 22nd, a game that ended 76-50 in favor of the Cougars.

Fast forward to yesterday’s media availability; coach Aaron McKie exuded a lot more confidence in his team’s ability to compete versus 8th ranked Houston compared to the first game.

“Definitely, we are taking baby steps to get better as a team. It was our second game, and they threw us into the deep end of the ocean. I’m optimistic that we are a better team now.” 

Despite the loss, this statement remains true as the Owls showed marginal improvement from their first matchup against Houston. 

The game began featuring the defensive prowess of the Cougars. Head coach Kelvin Sampson compiled an excellent scouting report, as Houston was able to key in on Temple’s shot creators and force them to find scoring elsewhere. 

Brendan Barry’s chances to kill momentum with a three were gone before he could get the ball. He ended with 2 points going 0-2 from beyond the arc. Damian Dunn’s timely free throws were nowhere to be found. He finished with a season-low 5 points on 1-10 from the field and 3-5 from the charity stripe.

However, as these weapons were diminished, other bright spots emerged for Temple. Khalif Battle being one of them.

Battle transferred to Temple from Butler University in April. He was expected to be a significant piece of the Owls’ backcourt rotation until a hamstring injury sidelined him. After completing his first full stretch of practice this week, Battle recorded a career-high 14 points and added six rebounds in 33 minutes of action.

“I like to score and be a playmaker. I want to make guys better. I like to rebound and get after it defensively. I think defense turns to the offense, and that’s what coaches appreciate about me, and that’s why I’m on the court.” said Battle of his brand of basketball.

In the postgame presser, coach McKie expressed the desire to work on Battle’s shot selection. This will undoubtedly help his efficiency as a scorer and lead to more quality minutes for the sophomore.

Battle was a big part of why this matchup was a marked improvement from the first. Temple struggled in the first half, going into the locker room down 36-21 against a stout defense. Yet they came out of the locker room and kept the margin the same behind Battle’s ten second-half points.

Another contributor to Temple’s strong second half was Jake Forrester. His conditioning has been a point of emphasis but was not a problem for the big man against Houston. He had team-highs in two categories with 15 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.

“I’m slowing my game down. I’m keeping my feet under me and looking for my options, just trying to finish everything,” said Forrester of his improved offensive performance.

As Temple’s guard play continues to improve behind Battle and Barry, the idea of a small-ball lineup could put Forrester in a vital position as the big man of that group. Performances like against Houston prove that he is up to that task.

The Owls will hope to build on these bright spots in the two games scheduled for next week at the Liacouras Center. 

Wednesday was originally intended to be a matchup against USF but was postponed due to COVID-19. 

Instead, Temple will face Tulsa at 1 p.m. at home on Tuesday, January 26th. You can listen in to the live broadcast on WHIP Radio, starting at 12:30 p.m. with the pregame show.

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