Temple Tops Richmond, Loses Eric for Season

Temple Tops Richmond, Loses Eric for Season

The Temple University Basketball Owls announced in a game time press release Thursday evening that starting center Michael Eric will miss the remainder of his Junior season with a fractured right patella. Junior guard and leading scorer Ramone Moore informed all interested parties after the team's 73-53 win over Richmond that the injury was sustained after a "freak accident" during a relatively light practice on Tuesday. The team was informed of Eric's status Wednesday.

A breakdown of the Richmond victory and the Owl's new rotation after the jump...

Temple shot an outrageous 55.6% from the floor Thursday night, while holding Richmond to a shade under 40. Leading scorers Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez posted a combined 19-25 shooting. Even more impressive, Fernandez' only miss of the night came as a result of desperation three in an attempt to stave off an expiring shot clock.

No, he was not the Argentine Christian Laettner against Richmond, but one hopes that this break out performance will, indeed, break him out of the shooting funk he's been in since injuring his knee at the beginning of A10 play. Sitting alongside Moore in the post-game presser, Fernandez offered the following on what the performance meant to him given his recent struggles:

"I've been trying to get my confidence back for both my teammates and my coaches, and luckily for me, personally, it was a good game. But, most importantly, it was a good team win...I don't want to think about myself, I want to think about the team, and how to step my game up to help everybody else and to help us win."

20 points on 9 of 10 shooting preceded by a performance at Dayton featuring nine assists and zero turnovers is definitely what I would call "stepping up your game."

Outside Juan's play and the team's other gawdy totals, Temple's real advantage came, and oddly enough without their tallest player, down low. Though they only out-rebounded Richmond by a margin of 5 (33-28), Temple scored 18 of their 38 first half points in the paint.  Nine more came in the form of converted second chance opportunities.

A nine point lead at the half grew to as much as 21 on the back of a 16-0 Temple run early in the second, when Temple's perimeter shooting, defensive pressure and ability to get out in transition all seemed to gel at once.

"I said to the guys at halftime, 'last week against Fordham, we had a big lead and they came back,'" said Moore, who's taken over the reigns as Temple's on-court vocal leader this season. "'Let's keep that in the back of our minds and not let that happen,' and we were able to match their run [at the beginning of the second] and have one of our own and increase that lead again."

Before closing the book on Thursday and moving on to life without the man in the middle, two quick notes on the final score:

  1. The result of this game in no way reflects the talent level of the Richmond Spiders. Kevin Anderson is an elite guard, and the substantially improved play of big men Justin Harper and Dan Geriot makes Richmond a veteran team Temple fans shouldn't be too eager to see again. The Owls are not going to shoot that well every night, and Richmond won't go quietly a second time. Chalk this is up as unexpected rolling and don't take it for granted.
  2. Though Juan and Ramone received most of the attention above, every single member of the team contributed at both ends. It was a far more balanced effort in person than on paper. And it is exactly this sort of cohesive team play leads us to...

How life without Michael Eric, despite said cohesion, is going to be a challenge for Temple. With Craig Williams out, in all likelihood, for the remainder of the year and Freshman Anthony Lee wearing a medical red shirt, Lavoy Allen is the only traditional big left on the squad. Granted, Sophomore Rahlir Jefferson is insanely long, but he is still only 6'6.

The obvious counter-argument to Eric's influence goes something like this: "Well, wait, Temple just rolled one the three best teams in the A10 without Eric and he has only averaged 7.1 PPG in 20 minutes. It's not like he was eating 30+ minutes or boarding and scoring in double figures every night. What's the big deal?"

The big deal, fictional debater, is that Temple is now completely out of options in tight situations. If at any point Lavoy finds the same kind of foul trouble he did early in the year, then Temple will be forced to play a three (probably, in honest, four) guard line-up with Jefferson as the center. Also checking in at 6'6, Junior Scootie Randall, Temple's best perimeter defender, will fill in on the opposite block at power forward. This also assumes, by the way, that Rhalir is able to stay on the floor and off the PF sheet himself. If not, you're looking at graduate walk-on Dutch Gaitley as the only meaningful height on the roster. Otherwise, burning 6'10, 190-pound Jimmy McDonald's red shirt becomes the last viable option.

Moreover, don't be so quick to dismiss Eric's contributions on a nightly basis. Mike is the team's leading shot blocker and does well to alter far more shots than a stat sheet can show you. Sure, Temple's small lineup of Wyatt, Fernandez, Moore, Randall and Jefferson (and possibly at any time DiLeo or Brown) is absolutely freakish to watch in the open floor, but a lineup that size, at this level, is bound to prove itself as a gimmick against quality opponents.

When asked after the game what Mike's absence would mean heading forward, coach Dunphy was careful not to minimize the loss of his starting center:

"When these kinds of things happen, the first concern you always have is for the guy," Dunphy said, "and in this case, Mike's such a good man. He's worked hard to get to where he is, so when you get that word that the doctor tells you that you have a fractured patella and you're out for the season, that's pretty devastating for a young guy. You don't worry so much about the team; the team has this resiliency about them. They'll come together and they'll form this support system with one another, and they'll be OK. But you worry about the kid and in this case, we're worried about Mike. He'll be OK, but it's a shame that he has to miss the rest of the season."

The Owls will do their best to adjust to life after Eric with another game this Sunday, this time against the St. Joseph's Hawks. Tip off is set for 4p.m. from inside the Liacouras Center and will be broadcast live on Comcast Sportsnet. For those in attendance, the Temple student body is planning an extra special event in the stands related to SJU's eternally resiliant mascot. It might just be the loudest, sloppiest, most disingenuous "wake" of which you'll ever be apart. Well, unless you're Irish, of course.

Jimmy Rollins salutes former Phillies teammate Ryan Howard

Jimmy Rollins salutes former Phillies teammate Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley were all drafted and developed by the Phillies. They came to the majors and became the best first baseman, shortstop and second baseman in franchise history.
 
And, of course, they were a huge part of the core of the team that won the 2008 World Series.
 
Time moves on and so do great players.
 
Rollins was traded in December 2014 as the team began a rebuild. Utley was traded in August 2015. On Sunday, Howard, the last piece from that championship season, will play his last game with the Phillies.
 
Rollins took some time Saturday to pass along some thoughts on his friend’s time in red pinstripes.
 
“When Ryan first arrived in Philadelphia, he was merely filling in for Jim Thome in the eyes of many, but he did not let that opportunity to shine pass him by,” Rollins wrote. “He quickly became feared as he won Rookie of the Year and MVP in consecutive years and reached 200 home runs quicker than anyone in the history of the game. He loved the pressure and wanted to be the man at the plate when the game mattered most.”
 
The Phillies won five division titles from 2007 to 2011. Howard led the majors in homers twice and RBIs three times.
 
“During our run, we leaned on him many times for big hits and clutch home runs and he found ways to deliver,” Rollins said. “Ryan never stopped working to better himself and his craft, whether it was getting to the field early for extra defensive work or finding that sweet home run stroke. Although he hit a lot of them, he was more than just a power hitter -- he was a great teammate.
 
“We all hoped to bring more than one championship to Philadelphia, but without Ryan that one may not have been possible. So, many thanks to 'Big Piece' for being such a big piece of the best years of my career in the City of Brotherly Love!”

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Playoff implications as Union visit Red Bulls

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Playoff implications as Union visit Red Bulls

Union vs. New York Red Bulls
7:00 p.m. on TCN

Riding a four-game winless run and with just three matches remaining in the season, Alejandro Bedoya and the Union (11-11-9) look to alter their recent misfortune when they take on the powerful New York Red Bulls (13-9-9) on Saturday (7:00 p.m., TCN) at Red Bull Arena, in an Eastern Conference showdown with playoff implications.

Here are five things to know.

1. Playing for Position
With three games left in the season and currently sitting fourth in the East, the Union are closing in on the organization’s second-ever playoff berth.

“Every point matters,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “We need to take care of business and get as many points as possible down the stretch. We know we have a good team, we know our fans deserve to be back in the playoffs and that is our singular focus at this point."

Though making the playoffs is the club’s singular focus, the Union have their eye on positioning. In MLS, the third and fourth seeds earn home-field advantage in a play-in game against the fifth and sixth seeds. Prior to Saturday, the Union, who have 42 points, are just two points ahead of D.C. United and one point ahead of the Montreal Impact.

All three clubs have played 31 games.

“We recognize it’s going to be a tough task but at the same time, we’ve set ourselves up nice where we control our own destiny,”Curtin said. “That hasn’t been the case in past years.”

But while you’d expect the Union to simply be satisfied making the playoffs and even hosting a game, the club isn’t content with a play-in game -- they want a top-three finish. The Red Bulls are second in the East with 48 points -- six more than the Union, who play them twice, including Saturday.

“It’s certainly realistic,” said Curtin, about claiming a top-three seed in the East. “The fact that we play Red Bull twice, you control your own destiny. But it’s going to be difficult.”

2. Bedoya and Barnetta
Earlier in the week, Tranquillo Barnetta made headlines when the the Union announced that the potent midfielder, who is out of contract after this season, will not return to the club next year.

That news overshadowed the fact that Barnetta might not play a major role on Saturday, after missing last week’s match with an injured knee suffered against the Portland Timbers.

“His injury is one that is manageable,” Curtin said. “We hoped to have him back for [Toronto FC last Saturday] but it just didn’t feel right, so we decided to hold him. I think he’ll play a role in the New York game, whether that’s as a starter or off the bench still remains to be seen.”

With five goals and four assists this season, Barnetta has been the engine that has the Union propelling toward the post-season. And with knee issues, that sidelined him early in the season, now bothering him again, the Union want to be extra careful.

“We have to have an eye on what’s best for him, his body and the club,” Curtin said. “Obviously, getting the most points we can and using him the best way.”

But if Barnetta can’t go on Saturday, the Union will be in decent hands. Last week, while filling in at the center attacking midfield spot for Barnetta, Bedoya scored his first MLS goal, when he chipped a beauty past the goalkeeper. The Union ended up tying the match, 1-1.

“It was a special goal,” Curtin said. “It was a special play from a very talented individual and a heck of a way to open your goal-scoring account for the club.”

3. Streaking Red Bull
The Union take on the Red Bulls in two of their final three matches of the season. And the way the Red Bulls are playing, that’s not a good thing for the Union. Saturday’s hosts are on a 13-game unbeaten streak.

“Red Bull hasn’t lost since early July so to think that you’re just going to take two games from them, there’s no guarantee in that,” Curtin said. “It’s going to be difficult.”

Even while riding the streak, the Red Bulls are still pushing. The club is three points behind New York City FC for tops in the East, with a game in hand.

“We’re full throttle right now,” said Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch. “It’s exciting and it’s at the right time.”

That poses a tougher challenge for the Union, who weren’t the dominant team in a 2-2 draw with the Red Bulls earlier in the season. But if Curtin’s club learned anything, it’s that they have to beat the Red Bulls’ energetic press, if they want a result on the road.

“We have to bypass their press,” Bedoya said. “We need to be calm on the ball, don’t panic and play through it. We can be a high energy, high press team as well, we have great players. Hopefully, we go there and take it to them.”

But the Red Bulls will be ready.

“They’ve done well breaking our pressure at times and establishing themselves as the game has gone on,” Marsch said. “We know the game will be different at Red Bull Arena, we can put it on our terms. This is a rivalry game, it’s a playoff team. We’re going to get their best and we’ll be ready for them.

4. Keep an eye on
• Sacha Kljestian: One of the better playmakers in MLS, Kljestian leads the league with 16 assists. And while it doesn’t hurt that he’s passing to MLS scoring leader, Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has 20 goals, the Union need to stop Kljestian if they want to stop the Red Bulls.

• Fabian Herbers: The rookie has three assists in his last three games for a team-leading seven helpers on the season. As long as Ilsinho is sidelined with a foot injury, the Union will look to Herbers, at right attack midfield, for consistent production. There’s no reason to believe he won’t deliver it.

5. This and that
• For the first time in 2016, Maurice Edu was on a Union game roster last week against Toronto FC. He didn’t play, though Curtin said that day isn’t far off. “He’s getting up closer to the numbers that we want him to get to each day,” the coach said. Mo is working toward getting to those numbers that we see fit for that position in MLS, and what it takes to play a game.”

• While Josh Yaro was suspended last weekend for earning a red card against the Timbers, he also suffered a concussion. He has fully recorded, but still might not make the start at center back after Ken Tribbett’s strong game on Saturday in Yaro’s place. “He was cleared this morning so he’s a good option to  have back in the lineup. It needs to be said that Ken did a really great job for us.”

• The Union are 5-9-3 against the Red Bulls all-time, but are 0-0-1 this season.