Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
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Temple and Drexel shook off the cobwebs and got their season underway on Tuesday with an exciting City 6 matchup, as Temple held off a Drexel program determined to spoil Aaron McKie’s first game as head coach, 70-62.
Here are some takeaways from both team’s season openers; click here to access a photo gallery from the game:
Aaron McKie (above) moved to 1-0 in his Temple coaching career. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
McKie wins his first
It’s been a long time since Aaron McKie made his last Temple debut –– nearly 28 years, in fact, since the Owls’ head coach made his first appearance at McGonigle Hall. Tuesday night, following a playing career that saw him picked in the first round of the NBA Draft and spending eight of his 15 years in the league with his hometown Sixers, then five years each as an assistant for the Sixers and then Temple, McKie debuted yet again, his first game as the Owls’ newest head coach.
“There was a lot of emotions running through me throughout the week, leading up to this and even throughout the day,” he said.
Though Drexel put a good scare into their hosts, keeping it tied at halftime and never letting Temple out of arms’ reach, McKie was able to at least walk off the Liacouras Center court with a winning record for the first time.
“I just never felt settled, I didn’t like the way we were playing,” he said. “It could have been the first home game, lot of guys were trying to do too much.”
Nate Pierre-Louis, who had a team-high 16 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five steals, and four assists, said getting the first win for McKie wasn’t adding to the team’s typical season-opening nerves.
“I just think it was that, it is our first game, we haven’t really played up and down in front of people in a long time,” the junior guard said. “So it was good to get the little jitters out, but at the end of the day we’ve got the ‘W’ and that’s what matters.”
Afterwards, McKie was most annoyed about his teams’ carelessness with the ball, with quite a few of the team’s 11 turnovers coming on unforced errors and leading to easy run-outs for the Dragons. Though those 11 turnovers represented a giveaway on just 14.3% of possessions, a lower number than last year’s season average, it was still enough for McKie to take notice.
“It’s really the main thing that I put up on the board,” he said. “I had a conversation with [former Temple] coach [John] Chaney this afternoon, he said ‘I’m gonna be watching, and you know that’s what I’ll be looking for,’ so that’s all I could think about during the course of the game is not turning the ball over.”
Nate Pierre-Louis (above) and the Owls didn't show much outside shooting on Tuesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Temple’s outside shooting search
The Owls were a below-average 3-point shooting team last year, making just about a third of their shots from distance. Out of the entire roster, no matter how many attempts taken, only Shizz Alston (99-of-283, .351) and JP Moorman (34-of-83, .410) hit 35 percent or better, and Alston –– one of several former Owls in attendance –– is now playing professionally for the Delaware 87ers.
That left McKie looking for more outside shooting, especially in a year when an expanded 3-point line meant court space becomes even more important. The starting backcourt of Quinton Rose (41-of-149, .270) and Nate Pierre-Louis (26-of-84, .310) left much to be desired in terms of their ability to hit from beyond last year, and there was no clear gunner joining the roster; transfer Monty Scott hit .347 from deep in two years with Kennesaw State, but freshman Josh Pierre-Louis, Nate’s brother, was known as more of a slashing point guard than for his ability to hit from deep.
Temple only took 15 3-pointers against Drexel, making five. That’s quite a low number of long-range attempts in this age of floor spacing and uptempo 3-and-layup basketball, but it might play towards the Owls’ strengths.
Rose hit two of his four attempts, and Alani Moore II was 2-of-6 from deep; Moorman hit his only attempt, and three other players missed a total of four 3-pointers.
“We made a point of emphasis to get 50 paint touches, I don’t know how many paint touches we got today,” Pierre-Louis said. “But during the season, you’ll see, we have shooters; [tonight] we just made a point of emphasis to use our size and use our strength.”
Even that didn’t go so well: Drexel out-rebounded Temple, 46-39, thanks in large part to a 16-8 advantage on the offensive glass. Drexel junior forward James Butler grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, six on the offensive end.
“Rebounding, execution on offense, and transition defense, those are the three things I personally think we have to get a lot better at,” Moorman, a junior forward, said.
T.J. Bickerstaff (above) had 16 points and seven rebounds in his Drexel debut. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Drexel turning corner defensively?
There’s no way to put this lightly –– the Dragons, a program known for its staunch defense (and admittedly stale offense) under former head coach Bruiser Flint –– had basically become a mirror of itself under fourth-year head coach Zach Spiker, with a much more free-flowing offense, but a turnstile-esque defense. Drexel was 327th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, according to KenPom, after coming in 292nd and 283rd the years before that. For DU to take a leap up towards the top of the Colonial Athletic Association standings, they’d need to figure out how to stop somebody.
Consider Tuesday night a step in the right direction.
Drexel held Temple to 70 points on 75 possessions, a healthy number for a squad playing up a level in terms of size and athleticism, not to mention on the road to open the season. And considering last year’s squad gave up 1.13 points per possession, 0.93 ppp is a massive improvement.
“I thought there was more length on the floor, a focused effort,” Spiker said. “Twenty-seven deflections is a good number, we had in the game. What was their percentage, they shot 43 percent for the game. So I think there’s progress, but there should be.”
Last year, Temple hung 84 on Drexel in a win at the Palestra, making 56.8 percent of their 2-point attempts. This time around, the Owls were noticeably finding it more difficult to get open looks, shooting 23-of-50 (46.0 percent) from inside the 3-point arc.
“I think that defensively they did a really good job today,” Pierre-Louis said. “There were times we did struggle scoring the basketball.”
A major reason Drexel might be improved defensively this season is the arrival of two freshmen who bring length and athleticism to the table. Mate Okros, a 6-6 wing, got the start at the ‘3’ and contributed five points, three bounds, and a steal. Coming off the bench was 6-8 wing forward T.J. Bickerstaff, a lanky and mobile ‘4’ who scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in his first collegiate action. Both played 26 minutes, and combined with sophomore guard Camren Wynter (15 points, six assists) give Spiker an exciting young core to build around.
“We just made it an effort [to add length] when we were recruiting. This is what helps us,” Spiker said. “I think we’re longer and guys have a good defensive mindset, and we’re competing better, I think.”