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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Temple Sends Shockwaves Through the Big 5 and Beyond, Takes Down #16 Villanova in Classic Showdown

By Josh Abrams. (Photos: Mike Nance), 11/12/22, 5:45PM EST


Photos: Mike Nance

Story by: Josh Abrams (@jabrams1998)

PHILADELPHIA – If you heard all that rumbling coming from 1776 N Broad Street on Friday night you might have thought the Phillies had taken their talents to the Liacouras Center.

Temple’s men’s basketball team followed in the city’s baseball team’s footsteps by accomplishing something that had not been done in almost a decade. In what turned out to be an absolute nail-biting thriller, the Owls defeated the Wildcats for the first time since December 2012. Damian Dunn and Khalif Battle led all scorers with 22 and 21 points, respectively, while Jamille Reynolds got the scoring going early in both halves and finished with 14 points.

Things did not start out as said thriller, however, as Temple got out to an early lead at virtually every media timeout in the first half. Their largest lead would get to as high as 13, after two threes from Battle (the second an and-one) sent the crowd roaring and put Temple up 24-11 with under eight minutes to play in the opening frame. It was quite the much needed response for Battle and company.

Temple vs. Villanova - Game Highlights by Josh Abrams

“It was a great bounce back,” said Battle, a redshirt sophomore guard. “Usually in these situations you lose to a team you’re not supposed to (Wagner) and then it’s all about the response. I think we responded the right way and I’m happy with the results.”

Such results may have very well saved Temple’s season. Yes, two games into this infant-old college basketball season we are already talking about rescuing an entire season’s worth of games. That’s because last night’s stunner was the only way Temple was going to rejuvenate a crowd and fanbase who endured perhaps the most painful loss in recent memory on Monday; a 76-73 OT heartbreaker to Wagner at the Liacouras Center.

Temple came into that game as 16-point favorites. The Owls led by 15 with under eight minutes, 11 with 3:30 and three with eight seconds remaining in the second half, and still lost.

Losing at home is never fun. Losing at home like that can play the worst mind games on you and affect the other 29 games on your schedule. So how exactly does Temple head coach Aaron McKie guide his guys out of this slump?

“I told the guys, ‘they’re (Villanova) going to score in the paint,’” McKie, the Philly native said. “They’ve got some skilled basketball players that can score the ball. And I just told them ‘don’t panic, we’ll see what happens.’ We kept them off the three point line and I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping those guys off the glass.”

Not only did Temple succeed in limiting Villanova’s second chance opportunities – Eric Dixon was the only Wildcat with an offensive rebound, four to be exact – they also virtually completely shut down their three-point attack, as the Owls held Nova to an astonishing 2-7 mark from beyond. This comes one game after the Wildcats made 13 of 20 three-point shots (65 percent) against La Salle on Monday.

Despite the Owls’ success on that end, Nova would simply not go away quietly. A Zach Hicks free throw with 4:31 left in the first half put Temple’s lead back up to 13, 31-18. From there the only made basket for Temple was a three from Dunn, which proved to be huge as Villanova went on an 11-3 run to end the first half and cut the Owls’ lead down to five, 34-29. A frustrating sight for Temple fans, but one McKie was expecting from a squad like Villanova.

“They’re one of the gold standard programs in college basketball,” said the former Philadelphia 76er. “They want layups or threes and it’s been their strength for such a long time. They got some potent three-point shooters, and so you have to decide how you want to go down; is it by allowing those guys to take and make threes or say ‘look, they might shoot 48 percent for the game (tonight) but only 2 for 7 from the three point line.’ So I think I’ll take that if we’re looking at the analytics.

“But on the other side of that too, to combat that, we have to be able to score the ball. And I think with having Damian out there, Khalif being back and Zach out there being a threat helps Jamille, who was outstanding in the middle for us. So we have to deal with them on one end but they have to deal with us on the other.”

In addition to his 14 points, Reynolds notched a double-double by adding 12 rebounds, five of them on the offensive end. Overall, he was fantastic in keeping the Villanova big man and Abington native Dixon off the glass, as he was held to just five boards on the contest.

The kids started using the seesaw in the second half, particularly coming back from the under-12 media timeout with 11:08 remaining. Dixon made an and-one free throw after getting fouled in the paint and on the next possession Hysier Miller fouled Nova’s leading scorer, Caleb Daniels, on a three point shot. Daniels hit all three foul shots, giving Nova their first lead of the game at 47-45 and putting him up to 11 of his eventual 19 points in the game.

Villanova seemed to hit the biggest shot of the game with just over one minute showing on the clock when a three from Jordan Longino put the Wildcats in front, 64-62. Dunn drove straight to the basket and drew a shooting foul on Dixon. 

Post Game Press Conference with Temple Head Coach Aaron McKie - Video by Josh Abrams

Khalif Battle (21pts.) addresses Temple's victory vs. Villanova - PSD Video by Josh Abrams

Temple's leading scorer Damian Dunn (22 pt.s) joins Battle at the post-press conference table - PSD Video by Josh Abrams

Both foul shots fell for Dunn, and when Daniels missed a jump shot from the paint on the following possession, he duplicated his last trip down the floor by getting fouled in the act of shooting again, this time on Brandon Slater who ultimately fouled out of the game.

Once Dunn’s first free throw fell through with just a second remaining, you could sense the upset coming to reality. The celebration was a bit premature as the Temple faithful stormed the court before the game was officially over, but the clock eventually reached all zeros and Owl nation could finally release their breaths. Even for someone who has been on some memorable teams and played in some memorable games, this game sticks out for Aaron McKie and the rest of Temple’s storied men’s basketball program.

While this comes as the first win over Villanova in close to a decade, it also marks the first time the teams played each other since the 2019-20 season. In the previous two seasons Temple and Villanova were not able to square off due to Covid-related reasons, so just to be able to compete against one another had to have been refreshing enough.

“It’s great for the players to see, and that’s that college energy that these kids go play college basketball for,” McKie said. “I want to thank our fans; they were outstanding. Our guys just rode off of that energy that the fans brought into the arena and it’s fun to see. The fans are very important to what we do and how well we do it.”

Both teams now sit at 1-1 on the extremely young season. Villanova will go back to the Main Line and host Delaware State on Monday while Temple stays in North Philly and hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday.