The Temple Owls are a team who miss the leadership, offense, defense and physical contributions of Scootie Randall. Watching their 85-77 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers Friday afternoon made that fact painfully clear.
While the Owls fought valiantly on the strength of a game-high 27 points from senior guard Ramone Moore, Moore found himself attempting to spearhead a comeback without fellow guard Juan Fernandez or starting center Michael Eric. Both were dismissed with more four minutes left in the ballgame, leaving Moore and Khalif Wyatt—who finished with four fouls himself—to lead the team.
Fernandez made his exit in style with 5:40 remaining in the second half, following an after-the-whistle confrontation in which both he and Purdue's Kelsey Barlow were both whistled for technical fouls. Foul trouble has been an issue for Fernandez throughout his career at Temple, an issue he has said he needs to work harder to correct. Today, his five fouls, along with those of Michael Eric, put Temple in a late hole from which it was unable to recover.
As for the opposition, Boilermaker Robbie Hummel is no doubt the face of the Purdue program and started off hot—scoring 8 of his team's first 9—but it was 5-9 guard Lewis Jackson who played the biggest role against the Owls. Once again, Temple evidenced an inability to defend a small, quick guard. Jackson, who more or less had his way on offense and who was not appropriately taken advantage of by Temple on it's own possessions, finished with a team-high 26.
The performance was all to reminiscent of watching the Temple's loss in the A10 semifinals last year to Richmond and the similarly talented Kevin Anderson. An undermanned Temple was spread out on defense by a team who shoots well from the perimeter. Spreading the defense allowed Jackson to drive, dish and shoot all at will, while big man Michael Eric was left in the difficult position of having to play tough, yet responsible team defense. To his credit, his final foul was a disgrace of a call on a routine box out, but the 6-10 center still has much to learn about walking the fine line between being aggressive and staying on the floor.
On the subject of fouls, the Owls have attempted to get by with just a seven-man rotation in their first three games, as they await Randall's return from injury. While it's an understandable strategy given their current personnel, a seven-man rotation is put in a troublesome bind when too many of its members are in foul trouble, especially early. Michael Eric had to be removed from the ball game for an extended period in the first half in an effort to preserve him for the second; and though Fernandez's first foul wasn't picked up until the second half—a wholly welcome change from his usual quick two in the opening ten—the personals quickly racked up as the referees tried to put their mark on the game.
In this regard, the officiating legitimately harmed the contest. Purdue and Temple are two highly physical teams, so it isn't surprising that there would be an abnormal amount of contact when the two square off. There is nothing wrong with trying to establish certain guidelines in terms of what is and is not permissible on the floor, but the referees damaged a hard fought game due to an apparent discomfort with its character. At a time when Temple cannot afford consistent and widespread foul trouble, it was disappointing to see the officials take the game out of the player's hands, and into their own.
Other key notes from the Temple loss include comparative 3-point shooting and the Owls' struggles in help defense. Though Temple would wind up out-shooting the Boilermakers from the floor (52%-47%), they would finish just a miserable 3-12 from 3. And while Purdue wasn't exactly stellar from behind the line—shooting just 37.5% on 6 of 16 attempts—those extra nine points played a key factor in the outcome. As for issues in the help D, Purdue found itself many a clean look on a series of well-executed down screens. Hummel was particularly effective in the early going running curls toward the top of the key and outside of the arc, moving from behind timely, physical picks. As the game would progress and Temple would find its players struggling to stay on the floor with three and four fouls, the switches broke down and the help was slow and tentative in its arrival.
Thus, the Owls have suffered their first loss and will move 2-1 on the season.
The team will no doubt enjoy its rest on Saturday during its one-day break in San Juan. On Sunday, they'll look to take two of three from the Five-Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off when they face the loser of this evening's Alabama-Wichita State match up.