Temple had its best statistical defensive performance of the season in its last game versus Central Florida. Still, head coach Aaron McKie demanded more.
It would’ve been hard for the Owls to play defense much better on Saturday at Devlin Fieldhouse, but they did. Temple swarmed Tulane’s ball handlers and met McKie’s demands.
The Owls defeated the Green Wave, 65-57.
Tulane (6-4, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) started the second half 0-for-15 from the field as Temple’s lead grew to 14. A 14-point lead might as well have been double that with the difficulty Tulane had scoring.
“I thought the guys did a pretty good job,” McKie said. “That first half [Tulane] started making some shots, but I thought the shots they were making were tough, contested shots.”
As impressive as Temple (3-3, 2-3) guarded, Tulane stayed in the game. The Owls’ offense had good stretches but shot just 42% overall.
Jake Forrester was a bright spot. His first five games were filled with foul trouble. He played more than 25 minutes just once. Forrester kept himself on the court against Tulane and showed the impact he could have. The junior finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes. It was his second career double-double and his first since Jan. 25 of last season at Penn.
“We watched a lot of film of these guys,” Forrester said. “It just felt good to be the dominant force I can be. They went with a four-guard rotation with one big, so I just took all the advantage I could.”
Damian Dunn led the Owls with 18 points and added seven rebounds. Dunn is becoming the de-facto closer. He entered the day tied for the NCAA lead with 7.2 made free throws per game. He ended the day scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half.
“It’s going to be some nights where you guys look at him and say why did he take that shot,” McKie said. “Those type players take those shots because those are the ones that’s going to take those shots for you late in games when it’s crunch time. He has a huge upside.”
Butler transfer Khalif Battle made his Temple debut after missing the first five games with a hamstring injury. McKie has noted Battle’s ability to score in the past, and it didn’t take long to see why. He finished with only three points and shot 0-for-4 in 19 minutes, but Battle didn’t appear hesitant.
Battle’s return adds more offensive versatility. McKie can now deploy a four-guard lineup, which should help with spacing, shooting, and limiting turnovers. Battle was 3-of-5 from the free-throw line.
“Khalif does a lot that I think everyone doesn’t really know about yet,” Dunn said. “I think it’s been overlooked at times. It’s been several times at practice where he’s just doing stuff like, how? You’ve just got to live with the shots he’s made. He’s just so much of a versatile scorer and just so fast.”
Defense is Temple’s identity through six games, and that shouldn’t change. That’s the way McKie wants the Owls to play. The Green Wave entered the game averaging an AAC-low 64.2 points and shooting 38%. The Owls held them to 32% shooting.