Michael Eric registered a double-double and pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds to get Temple off to a fast start in San Juan. The Owls handled the Western Michigan Broncos by a final score of 69-55 in the first round of the 5-Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Eric looked like a completely different player as compared to his performance against the Quakers on Monday night. Rather than showing rust and looking out of place, Eric returned to form as the "Nigerian Nightmare." Appearing smoother with the ball and placing himself in much better position on defense, the fifth-year senior carried the Owls through a first half in which they did not shoot well at all from range.
Coach Fran Dunphy discussed Eric's defensive positioning at length in his post game press conference on Monday night. Characterizing his development as a continuing work in progress, the coach specifically mentioned his needed improvement in "timing his blast" to step out and pick up opponents on the perimeter. Showing signs that he's adapting to life without Lavoy Allen, Eric evidenced sound defense both above and below the arc. During a Western Michigan possession early in the second half, Mike popped out to cover a guard at the top of the key, but stopped in time so as not to overrun the play. He followed his man to the basket, altered the shot and then swatted away a potential put back on the ensuing rebound. Though it was only one possession, he showed clear signs that he is becoming the player the Owls will need him to be for 30+ minutes per game this season.
At the other end of the floor, the return of Khalif Wyatt from a one-game suspension also played a big role in improving the Owls' spacing and cohesion on offense. After hearing that his suspension was as a result of "the most minor of infractions," Doug Gottlieb explained on the broadcast that Khalif had played in an unregistered summer league during the off-season. The news clarifies coach Dunphy's comments from after the Penn game that Khalif's infraction was an issue that team's across the country all face in some regard. According to Gottlieb, Wyatt understood what he did, alerted Dunphy, and, together, they took the unfortunate, but necessary step of suspending the junior guard for the season opener. You can file this as #12,456,894,211 on the list of "What's Wrong with the NCAA in the Modern Day."
Anyway, on the floor, the Owls struggled from the field in the first half, shooting just over 31%. Though they would finish just 22-66 total, Wyatt, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez would all stretch the Temple lead to as much as 20 in the second half with a barrage of made 3's. By the end, all five starters—Fernandez, Moore, Wyatt, Eric and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson—would finish in double figures.
Shots aren't always going to fall, sometimes that's out of the players' control. What is in their control, as Dunphy will surely remind them, is cutting down on their 14 turnovers against the Broncos.
The Owls will attempt to follow up Thursday's win when they face the Purdue Boilermakers at 1 p.m. of ESPN U.