After a debilitating stretch of bad basketball that quelled hopes of an at-large bid, Temple got the monkey off its back Saturday night with a 76-64 victory over East Carolina at the Liacouras Center. The win ended a four-game skid, part of a stretch of seven losses in eight games
With how badly Temple (11-10, 3-6 American Athletic Conference) has struggled against zone defenses this season, one would wonder why any team would play man-to-man against the Owls at all. But that’s exactly what ECU (9-13, 3-6 AAC) did at the start, and Temple jumped out to a 26-10 lead 10 minutes in. The Owls hit five of their first eight threes and consistently found open looks.
That’s when the Pirates switched to a two-three zone defense. Over the next five minutes, Temple couldn’t find open shots, turned the ball over, and forced long-range attempts. ECU took advantage and used an 18-0 run to grab a 32-30 halftime lead. The Owls wouldn’t see a man-to-man defense for the rest of the game.
Temple figured it out in the second half. Jake Forrester worked as a zone-buster on the inside, getting the offense going in the paint. Alani Moore, Quinton Rose and J.P. Moorman got hot from beyond the arc. Nate Pierre-Louis led Temple’s aggressive defense, turning 11 ECU turnovers into 13 fast-break points.
Four players finished in double figures for Temple’s balanced offensive attack. Rose’s hot second half gave him a team-high 20 points while Moore, Moorman, and Pierre-Louis tallied 14 each. Tremont Robinson paced ECU with 21.
Three-point shots were the difference for Temple’s offense, and Moore had a day. Playing a season-high 37 minutes, Moore shot 4-for-8 from three, propelling Temple’s offense when it needed a boost. Rose said that Moore’s leadership also helped calm the Owls during tough stretches.
As a team, Temple shot 10-for-25 (40%) from three and 23-for-47 (48.9%) from the field. Cutting out the minutes immediately after ECU implemented its zone, its was an outstanding shooting day for an Owls’ offense that needed one.
ECU’s Jayden Gardner, who came into the game scoring an AAC-best 21 points per game, was held scoreless for the first 10 minutes with Moorman and Arashma Parks primarily defending him. He finished with a season-low 11 points. Moorman, whose 10 rebounds gave him a double-double, played against Gardner in high school in North Carolina and knew his game well. Parks added seven crucial free throws in the second half and played a career-high 19 minutes.
“We finally found our rhythm in man-to-man and their coach did a good job," said Rose. "He switched it up and went zone and we struggled for bit. We just have to do a better just limiting those runs. We can’t let it get to 18.”
“The first thing I said to the guys when they came in at halftime, ‘Relax. Relax. It’s just basketball. Relax. Make the right play, make the right decision,’ ” Temple head coach Aaron McKie said. “This game is about shot-making at the end of the day. … Shoot, we shoot 49% from the field, 40 from three –– I’ll take that. We haven’t been close to those numbers in a long, long time.”
Another stretch of poor shooting against a zone defense turned what looked like a blowout early into a battle. McKie mentioned after practice two weeks ago that he stresses his players to avoid panic from setting in when a zone is implemented in the middle of a game, but it still seemed to affect them on Saturday. Temple still finished with its best shooting game in weeks and will need to build upon that confidence.