Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
Somehow you could imagine the bronze statue of Temple’s legendary coach John Chaney that sits in the Liacouras Center lobby come to life, yanking off his tie and starting to scream on Monday night. Somewhere, someone’s ears were bleeding.
No one could believe it.
The Temple Owls left the court trotting back to their locker room audibly cursing with their heads down, eyes beaming lasers through the hardwood, maybe even hearing the ghost of Chaney screaming in their ears. On the other side of the court, the Wagner Seahawks reacted as if they had just won the Super Bowl, hugging, jumping, waving, taunting back the fans behind their bench that had taunted them the entire game.
Temple coach Aaron McKie (above) coaches during a timeout. (Photo: Jack Verdeur/CoBL)
Wagner visited Temple as 15.5-point underdogs, and it was a dead accurate betting line, since at one point, the Owls were up by 15 with less than eight minutes to play.
The Owls let up, Wagner didn’t.
The Seahawks rode a 27-12 outburst into overtime, where they stunned the Owls, 76-73, in overtime in the season opener for both teams.
The outcome wasted the fine efforts of Temple’s redshirt sophomore guard Damian Dunn, who finished with a game-high 29 points and soured the return of Owls’ guard Khalif Battle, who scored 16 after missing most of last year with a fractured fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot.
When asked what his message was to his numb players after the game, Owls’ coach Aaron McKie said, “I just had to take a sober approach to it. It’s a loss. Basketball is basketball. I just thought they outworked us. I thought they made the critical plays down the stretch that they needed to make to win the game. We were out of sorts.
“Our first home game playing in front of fans. I thought that we were uptight. We got into some sort of rhythm midway through the second half, where we created some separation and we fell asleep again—and it cost us the game.”
Temple’s bigs were a big disappointment.
A frightening portent of things to come occurred within the first minute of the game, when Wagner’s 6-3 Rahmir Moore — La Salle transfer and brother of former Temple star Ramone Moore — outworked Temple’s mammoth 6-11 Jamille Reynolds for an offensive rebound with 18:59 left in the first half. Reynolds was called for a foul for gripping Moore in a bear hug.
Sixteen seconds later, Reynolds picked up his second foul and was sitting on the bench in favor of 6-10 Kur Jongkuch. Reynolds, a sophomore transfer from UCF, played a whole 60 seconds in the Owls’ first 20 minutes of the season. Within the first minute of overtime, Reynolds picked up his fourth of the game on an offensive foul.
Reynolds and Jongkuch combined for 10 points and five rebounds. In contrast, Wagner’s 6-3 Moore and 6-5 guard Brandon Brown combined for 18 rebounds. The much-smaller Seahawks grabbed 12 offensive rebounds to Temple’s nine. The Seahawks made 27-of-64 shots (42.2%) to Temple’s 21-of-54 (38.9%).
Khalif Battle (above) scored 16 points in his return to the court after missing most of last season with a broken bone in his foot. (Photo: Jack Verdeur/CoBL)
The real difference came when Temple was up 57-42 after a Battle 3-pointer with 7:38 to play. Then, with 1:49 to play, the Owls held a seemingly comfortable 67-59 lead on a Battle driving layup.
“We feel we can rebound with anyone in the country, and we knew they were bigger than us, we didn’t care,” Wagner’s first-year coach Donald Copeland said. “The size difference was immense. You have a game plan and you execute it. It was more about what we were going to be rather [than] who they’re going to be.”
This got tense.
What looked easy suddenly wasn’t, after Wagner’s Jah Price-Noel popped a 3-pointer with 1:11 left pulling the Seahawks within 67-64 with less than a minute to play.
With 43.8 left, Dunn nailed a pair of free throws that looked to seal it for the Owls, 69-64. But again, Wagner clawed back. Trailing 69-66 with 8.9 left in regulation, Wagner got the ball back after Dunn lost it driving to the basket. Copeland drew a play intended for Price-Noel, made possible by the quickness of Wagner guard Delonnie Hunt, who finished with a team-high 19. Hunt took it the length of the court and kicked it out to Price-Noel for a three with 3.1 left to tie it at 69-69.
From there, Wagner poured on more intensity and Temple wilted under it.
“I was supposed to be hit with the pass and the play was intended for me to shoot, and I was little surprised how open I was,” Price-Noel said. “The attitude coming in was knowing Temple is a tough team, but we put in the work. We’re the hardest working team in the country.
“We stayed with it. We started strong in the first half, and we stuck with it and attacked their gaps. We knew we could kick the ball, shoot the ball and drive. They had a problem with our quickness.”
McKie noted from the beginning of the game there were issues.
How did the Owls lose the shooters?
“Just not communicating,” McKie said. “For the life of me, we practice those things all of the time. We talk about guarding the three-point line and they just got below our guys, they lost sight of them and they got some open threes. We didn’t communicate on the one that tied the game when they were pushing it down the floor.
“They happened and we didn’t communicate through it. As a result, I’m sitting up here in front of you guys talking about a loss.”
McKie blamed the foul trouble on a lack of discipline. He said the little things were not done, from simple things like boxing out to communicating.
There was one positive for Temple: Dunn tied a school record with Lynn Greer by going 18-for-18 from the foul line.
Otherwise, somewhere someone’s ears were bleeding.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.