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Defense fuels St. Joe's men's Big 5 win over Temple

12/11/2021, 7:45pm EST
By Sam Istvan

Sam Istvan (@sistvan_14)

In a classic Big 5 brawl, St. Joe’s ensured that Temple’s roadtrip to Hawk Hill on Saturday was anything but comfortable.

The Hawks came out scratching and clawing, denying passes to the wings that normally initiate the Temple offense and packing in their defense and offering stiff resistance to the Owls when they found themselves with the ball in the painted area.

Jordan Hall dribbles a basketball

Jordan Hall (above) posted his third consecutive 20-plus-point game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“We knew that we needed to bring a brawl mentality to this game,” said St. Joe’s head coach Billy Lange.

Temple head coach Aaron McKie was not pleased with how his team responded to what the St. Joe’s defense threw at them.

“We get spooked for some reason when teams do that,” McKie said.

The results bear out McKie’s assessment. The Temple offensive attack looked clunky and stilted as they struggled to create quality looks, shooting just 31 percent for the game including 2-of-20 from 3-point range.

“They took us out of our offense,” said Temple’s freshman guard Jeremiah Williams. “Denying the wings, packing it in on us, just throwing a different look at us that we haven’t seen this year. So, that took us out of our rhythm.”

St. Joe’s defensive performance fueled a resounding 68-49 victory over Temple, the Hawks’ first victory over their Big 5 foe in six years.

Another key component of St. Joe’s game plan was denying 6-foot-5 star redshirt freshman Damian Dunn the ball, and packing in the paint on each Temple drive. In the absence of leading scorer Khalif Battle, Dunn has become the go-to scorer for the Owls. 

On Saturday, though, he was trailed closely by his primary defender, junior guard Cameron Brown, who made Dunn work for every touch. The Owls’ lead guard finished with 12 points (4-11 FGs), his lowest output since Battle’s injury, and didn’t record his first field goal until the last possession of the first half. 

“It wasn't just Cam, [junior guard] Jack Forrest did a great job,” Lange said. “[Freshman forward] Kacper [Klaczek] did a great job. It took everybody to do it.”

Despite the lethargic first half performance, Temple came out revitalized in the second half. They forced some turnovers, got out in transition, and finally were able to finish at the rim, cutting a 15-point halftime deficit to seven at 46-39.

Then, Dunn received a technical foul for jawing with St. Joe’s redshirt senior forward, Taylor Funk. The technical free throws ended a 6-0 Owls run and sparked a 22-5 spurt by the Hawks.

“We were getting back in the game,” McKie said. “And we had some momentum going with us and that just took the air out of our sails at that point.“

At the center of St. Joe’s second-half run to put the game away was 6-7 star sophomore Jordan Hall, who poured in 26 points (8-15 FGs, 4-6 3Ps), his third straight 20-plus-point performance. 

With freshman point guard Erik Reynolds II on the bench in foul trouble, Lange put the offense in Hall’s hands and he responded, taking control of not just the St. Joe’s offense but the game. He poured in 13 points over a span of five minutes and 40 seconds during the deciding stretch of the game. 

Hall’s ability to score when put on the ball impressed Lange as he compared it to how his star player earned his season-high 33 points playing on the wing and off the ball in St. Joe’s previous game against Penn.

“I think that's great growth for him”, said Lange. “That he can have two good games in a row like this in the Big Five which are the hardest games that we play all season, and be able to perform the way he did in different ways.”

For Hall’s part, he seemed to relish the opportunity to run the point against the Owls. He howled with glee after draining two big second-half threes in quick succession and even found time to hype up the student section as the game winded down.

“Playing basketball is fun”, said Hall. “The game of basketball is fun. When I’m having fun, that’s when I’m at my best and playing at the highest level.”


Temple’s shooting woes in Battle’s absence intensify

Temple has struggled to shoot the ball, especially from the perimeter since losing Battle (49 percent 3PT) to injury and that trend only worsened on Saturday, as the Owls shot 2-of-20 from three against St. Joe’s. 

In the three complete games the Owls have played without Battle, they have shot a combined 14 for 62 on 3-pointers (22.5 percent). 

To make matters worse, Temple couldn’t take advantage of being put on the free throw line against St. Joe’s, going just 7-of-18 (39 percent) from the line.  

“I don't think we're the sort of team that's going to outgun somebody from the three-point line,” McKie acknowledged. “We got guys that can make them. We just have to keep working on them. But the important thing is we got to make free throws. We got to be able to make those open threes, and we have guys that I feel can do it. It's just a matter of stepping up and doing it when the lights come on.”

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