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:
- 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.
- 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.