By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA- Aaron McKie recalls the glares he used to receive followed by the angst he felt when John Chaney witnessed him committing a turnover. It’s something that has stayed with the former Temple guard, who helped lead the Owls to the Elite Eight in 1993, throughout his life, from first being the associate head coach to now officially manning the sideline at the Liacouras Center.
McKie is Temple basketball’s 18th head coach in program history and the first alum to serve in that role since Harry Litwack in 1952. He took over in April 2019 for Fran Dunphy, who had been the head coach since 2006. Even as a head coach, seeing his team turn the ball over at an erratic rate has him remembering what it was like to experience that as a player and luckily his former mentor spoke to him before his first game at the helm.
“It’s the main thing that I put up on the board,” McKie said. “I had a conversation with Coach Chaney this afternoon and he said, ‘I’m going to be watching. I’m going to be looking for them.’ That’s all I could think about over the course of the game was not turning the ball over because when you do that, especially against teams that convert, you hurt yourself.”
Despite only shooting 35 percent from the floor and turning the ball over 11 times, Temple rode its upperclassmen to victory in a 70-62 triumph over Drexel to give McKie his first win as head coach.
Senior Quinton Rose scored 14 points while junior Nate Pierre-Louis posted a double-double with a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds to go along with five steals. It was Pierre-Louis’ fourth career double-double and second straight after he recorded one in the Owls’ loss to Belmont in the NCAA Tournament First Four last season.
Rose put Temple (1-0) in position to pull away in the first half. He drilled a three-pointer to make it 17-12. That began a string of nine straight points, the latter basked being an and-one to push the lead to nine with 9:20 left in the first half. Pierre-Louis’ layup at the 8:04 mark of the opening half put the Owls up by 11. From there, the Owls, despite a veteran roster from a year ago, showed some immaturity and sloppy play.
Drexel forward James Butler, who had seven points and 15 rebounds, finished inside for the and-one then sophomore guard Matey Juric drained a triple to cut the deficit to 25-20. T.J. Bickerstaff (16 points) finished inside then Juric hit his second and third trey. Drexel (0-1) went on a 17-6 run to close out the first half and the teams were tied at 31-31 heading into the locker room.
Pierre-Louis admitted the Owls had too many letdowns, especially for the first game of the season and was relieved to have escaped with the win.
“I don’t think it was nerves,” Pierre-Louis said. “It was our first game. We hadn’t played up and down in a while. It was good to get the jitters out but at the end of the day we got the W and that’s all that matters.”
Rose was a dynamic scorer last season and Pierre-Louis was the pivotal sixth man who did a little bit of everything but their roles have been amplified with the graduation of Shizz Alston Jr. (Haverford School) and Ernest Alflakpui (Archbishop Carroll). Tuesday was their first opportunity to showcase their expanded roles, and while they struggled at times, Pierre-Louis knew his former backcourt mate was in attendance and to offer support.
“Shizz means everything to me,” Pierre-Louis said. “That’s my big brother. I really appreciated him because he did so much for this university. He respected the team. He’s a big influence on me. He still talks to me like he’s playing and gives me tips.”
A pair of free throws from the junior pushed the Owls lead to 48-42 then his steal and layup at the other end put his side in front by 12 points. J.P. Moorman II (nine points, five rebounds) knocked down a triple from the top of the key to give Temple a 59-47 lead with 5:14 left to play. Still, the Dragons wouldn’t go away as baskets by Bickerstaff, Butler and Zach Walton had the deficit down to 61-53 at the 2:45 mark of the second half.
A turnover by Pierre-Louis allowed Walton to score on the break and Temple only led by six. The Dragons, ultimately couldn’t get closer as Alani Moore II finished at the rim to push the Owls lead to 67-60 with 52 seconds left. Two more free throws by Pierre-Louis closed things out for Temple and much to the dismay of Drexel head coach Zach Spiker, who had to figure out ways to slow down the Owls top options.
“They’re talented players,” Spiker said. “It’s unrealistic to say you’re going to shut guys down but if you have to make them work for their shots and give them tough looks then you’ll be tough to beat. I don’t know if we did that all the time.”
McKie certainly recalls the feeling of recording a turnover under Chaney and how he could more easily bounce back from his downtrodden demeanor at that moment by making a play out on the court. Being on the sideline isn’t so easy and it’s something he’s going to continue to adjust to as moves forward in his first year.
“As a player, you have some control over the outcome sometimes,” McKie said. “You’re one of five out there on the floor and you want to control your nerves. What I realized right away as a coach, sometimes you don’t have that luxury. It’s up to 18-21 year-old kids to settle your nerves. You hope as a coach that you prepare them well enough to be on the better side of the game.”
Looking Ahead: The Owls will host Morgan State this coming Saturday at 2 p.m at the Liacouras Center. Over the weekend, Drexel will host the Garden State showcase in the Daskalakis Athletic Center and will play Niagara on Friday night at 7 p.m. and Abilene Christian on Sunday at 2 p.m.