After Joel Soriano led the Johnnies to a huge second half on Thursday to beat Nebraska, St. John’s will play a tough Temple Owls squad tonight. The game is part of the 2022 Empire Classic, a two-day, four team early season tournament played at the Barclays Center.
The other Empire Classic matchup being played tonight is between Syracuse and Richmond, and the winners and losers of both of today’s games will face off tomorrow night.
The Red Storm had their third straight game with a bad first half, and maybe had their worst one of all as they trailed 27-20 to Nebraska at the break, going 0-10 from three in the half with 10 turnovers. A dominant second half led them to a 20 point win, as they outscored the Cornhuskers 50-23, holding them to a second half field goal percentage of only 25.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (4-0) vs Temple Owls (2-2)
When: Monday, November 21, 2022, 9:30 PM
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
Odds: St. John’s -4
History: The Red Storm have won 32 of the 53 all time matchups, last beating the Owls 55-48 on November 28, 2009 at a neutral site in Philly.
Temple is the highest ranked opponent the Johnnies will play so far, according to KenPom, with a ranking of 89th out of 363 DI teams, compared to the Red Storm’s improved ranking of 33rd. They have won two and dropped two this season, with their wins coming against #16 Villanova and Rutgers, and both losses coming in OT to Wagner and Vanderbilt.
The Owls are coming off a 2021-22 campaign that saw them go 17-12 and finish fourth in the AAC. They are coached by Aaron McKie, played at Temple in the early 90s, and was a first round NBA draft pick with a 13 season career. McKie lost a few solid contributors from last year’s squad, but was able to return a good core group.
The Owls play a short bench, preferring to keep the pace more deliberate. Their squad has two sophomores who have played parts of four years (how? No clue), a sophomore who has played three years, and a fifth-year senior.
One key member returning from last year’s squad is 6-5 redshirt-sophomore guard Damian Dunn, who was All-AAC Second Team last season and who has been red hot in Temple’s first four games, averaging 24 points on 57.4% from the field and 55% from deep.
Dunn is joined on the Owls by another high scoring 6-5 redshirt-sophomore guard, Khalif Battle, who led the Owls in scoring for their first seven games last season before getting hurt. Battle averages 29.8 minutes off the bench, putting up 15.8 points per contest; he played his freshman year at Butler in 2019-2020 in Julian Champagnie’s freshman year.
With Dunn and Battle leading Temple’s backcourt, 6-11 280 lb big Jamille Reynolds has been their man in the frontcourt so far this season. The sophomore Reynolds, plyaing in his third full year, is a transfer from UCF, where he came off the bench last season, and is playing well in his opportunity to start for Temple, posting averages of 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Last season, the Owls had two players make the AAC All-Freshman Team, 6-8 forward Zach Hicks and 6-7 guard Jahlil White. Hicks has started off his sophomore campaign by improving on almost all of his numbers with averages of 10 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals, though he has only shot 26.2% from the field and 32.3% on his 7.8 three point attempts per game. White has not improved on his numbers from last year, as he is averaging one point and 4.5 rebounds on 7.7% from the field and 0% from three, also putting up 4.3 fouls per contest.
Temple’s starting point guard is 6-1 sophomore Hysier Miller, who had a mix of starts and bench appearances for the Owls last season. So far this year, Miller averages 6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals in 34.3 minutes per game.
Besides Khalif Battle, Aaron McKie gives rotation bench minutes to two players, 6-8 sophomore forward Nick Jourdain and 6-10 grad transfer forward Kur Jongkuch. Sophomore Jourdain is in his third season with the Owls, where last year he received 18 starts. So far in his 2022-23 campaign, he is averaging 3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks, compared to averages of 6.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks that he put up last season.
Jongkuch is a transfer from Northern Colorado, where he started 106 of the 119 games that he played in his four seasons there. At Northern Colorado, he averaged 6.7 points and 5.9 rebounds, while in his first four games with Temple he is averaging 1.5 points and 3 rebounds.
Keys to the Game
Strong start. When the Red Storm have played well this season, they have shown that no opponent they have played so far can keep up with them. They have gotten themselves into trouble with three bad first halves in a row, and need to stop that trend against Temple tonight.
Convert looks. The Red Storm can’t expect 20-point wins with shooting percentages of 39.2% from the field, 23.8% from three, and 50% from the line, which is what they put up against Nebraska. They need to convert their looks throughout the entire game in order to put some of the solid teams coming up on their schedule.
Solid defense. Temple has a lot of legitimate scoring threats, both on the perimeter and inside. The Johnnies need solid defense from top to bottom to shut down the Owls’ scorers and win convincingly.
St. John’s moves on to the Empire Classic final with a 78-69 win.