Temple coach Aaron McKie watches his team drop its third straight game, 65-51 to Tulane on Saturday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
You could feel the frustration building inside the Liacouras Center as the afternoon progressed. The deficit grew from single digits to 11 at halftime, then once more to 19 in the early minutes of the second half.
With each sloppy pass, missed jump shot and shot-clock violation, the groans grew louder.
What could the home crowd do to spark its team, which was hoping to avoid a three-game losing skid for the first time in more than two years? Nothing.
“Anything that’s worthwhile in life is hard,” Temple coach Aaron McKie said. “Losing sucks, though.”
It was hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for the Owls as they lost to Tulane 65-51 Saturday afternoon, falling to 9-6 this season and just 1-3 in American Athletic Conference play.
Perhaps, it was everything — Temple shot 17-of-54 from the field, missed 19 of its 24 3-point attempts, turned the ball over 18 times and trailed a Green Wave that finished last year 4-27 for nearly the entire game.
“The name of the game is putting the ball in the hole,” McKie said. “We struggle with that right now, just making shots. We’re getting good looks, but the balls are just not going in. And that’s not the kind of team we are — we’re playing like a finesse team on the offensive side of the ball.”
After a De’Vondre Perry 3-pointer right before the under-eight media timeout in the first half, the Owls’ offense went cold.
Temple made just one field goal during a nine-minute span that stretched into the second half, and the Owls never got closer than eight at any point the rest of the way.
Among teams in the American, Temple is second-to-last in scoring at 70.1 and its 40.9 percent mark from the field is worst in the conference. And the Owls have dropped from No. 57 in KenPom entering the Tulsa game to No. 91 as of Saturday evening.
“Honestly, this is us in the locker room stuff right now,” junior guard Nate Pierre-Louis said. “We’re going to figure it out.”
Although Quinton Rose added that there’s no turmoil amongst Temple’s players, Saturday was just more evidence that things are going to change — and change fast — if the Owls are going to have any shot at keeping their already slim NCAA tournament at-large hopes alive.
“It really just boils down to playing better,” McKie said. “When you lose, everybody’s pointing fingers and hopefully, we stay away from that. It starts with me, and everybody’s got to do better. If that means getting in the gym or me coaching better, whatever it is, at the end of the day, you want to get the win. And we’re not doing that right now.”
In the past, it would’ve been easy for Temple to overlook Tulane. The Green Wave had won just 17 games in American Athletic Conference games since joining the league at the start of the 2014-15 season.
But this Tulane group, now led by 55-year-old Ron Hunter, has already shown drastic improvement. Despite being picked dead last in the conference’s preseason poll, the Green Wave are already 2-2 in the AAC and lost by only 11 at then-No. 9 Memphis in late December.
That doesn’t make this result any easier to swallow for Temple.
“We watched enough film of them to know what they were capable of,” Rose said of Tulane. “We did a solid job down the stretch limiting them to the shots we wanted them to take. But they just didn’t fall on offense.”
“And it’s all on us,” Pierre-Louis added. “We’ve got to figure out what we’ve got to do.”
There won’t be much time for Temple to make those adjustments. On Wednesday, it’ll play host to a 14-1 Wichita State squad that’s flown under the radar the entire season — the Shockers’ lone loss came back in late November to now-No. 17 West Virginia.
And the Owls follow that with a trip to Dallas for a matchup at SMU, which has just two defeats in 14 games this year, albeit with one of the country’s easiest schedules.
Regardless, Temple is spiraling and things in North Philly look a whole lot gloomier than they did a month ago.
“It’s just fundamentals, and we practice them every day.” McKie said. “I’ve got to find a way to get better, as a coach, I’ve got to find a way to get the team better collectively, but we’re doing all the wrong things.”