Temple guards freshman Nate Pierre-Louis and redshirt senior Josh Brown celebrate after the Owls upset No. 16 Wichita State on February 1st.
“These freshmen, they bring the energy,” John Thompson III said. It was ten minutes into the second half when Thompson, the broadcaster for Temple’s game against Wichita State, stated these words. Freshman DeVondre Perry had just stole the ball, subsequently leading to a layup by junior Shizz Alston to cut the Wichita State lead to three.
It was plays like that, that won Temple the game Thursday night against Wichita State. It has stemmed from the freshmen, who have brought, just as Thompson stated, energy every single night. That’s what makes this group so special.
For much of the year, head coach Fran Dunphy and the Temple staff shied away from playing the freshmen, DeVondre Perry, J.P. Moorman, Nate Pierre-Louis, and Justyn Hamilton. Before a December 28th game where Nate Pierre-Louis logged 22 minutes, there had not been a game where the four had combined for 30 or more minutes. But on Thursday they combined for 57 minutes, a clear indicator of the trend that Fran Dunphy is now going with -- youth. And the reason is clear -- they play with heart and desire.
For much of the year, the Owls have struggled when they have fallen behind in games. Big leads against Temple have easily mustered into bigger leads as they have lacked a solidifying force to help them get through those tough times. But the freshmen have changed that. While they’re still getting comfortable on the court and learning on the move, their effect on the game is invaluable.
Despite their recent success, three of the four freshmen began the year sitting the bench. Perry was the only one who did not.
The Baltimore native has played in all but one game, not always filling up the stat sheet, but affecting the game in other ways. Offensively, he has taken care of the ball, notching the lowest amount of turnovers among players who have appeared in 20 or more games. By far his most impressive attribute has been his versatility. Perry provides Dunphy with the option to go to a small lineup with him at the ‘4’. He can bang with most ‘4’ men in the country while he is also able to get rebounds and push the ball up the floor. At the ‘3’, Perry is a mismatch offensively and on the defensive end he has enough quickness to consistently stay in front of his man, Even more, Perry has shown confidence in shooting the three (1.8 attempts per game), and while he hasn’t shot well, the green light Dunphy has given him provides hope that he can improve. Moorman, just like Perry, has the same do-it-all type versatility.
The big-bodied freshman from North Carolina isn’t afraid to go down low, while also possessing guard skills on the perimeter. Moorman wears number 4 a year after the graduation of Daniel Dingle and it’s hard not to see remnants of Dingle’s game in Moorman. Similar to Dingle, he can provide instant ability to play the ‘3’ or ‘4’ in any given situation. Moorman has also attacked the boards well, coming up with multiple big time plays for Temple when they have needed them most. Moorman leads the team in offensive rebound percentage (10.6) and defensive box plus-minus (4.8), two stats that are directly related to energy and hustle. Not much further than him on the defensive box plus-minus is Perry with a percentage of 3.1, third on the team of regular minute receivers.
And that’s a large reason why Perry and Moorman were such quick insertions at the beginning of the year. While Perry has played substantial minutes in almost every game, Moorman has been a situational player until recently. At the beginning of the year, Moorman would play a few minutes at the end of the first half if someone was in foul trouble or needed a blow. But as the year has progressed, he has seen his minutes and production steadily increase.
Over the last six games, where the Owls have turned their season around, going 5-1, Moorman has averaged 15.8 minutes per game, 3.8 points, 5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.1 steals. Those numbers are significantly more than his season averages of 9.1 minutes per game, 2.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, .6 assists, and .7 steals. Whether it was his 3 steals against UConn or his offensive rebound and assists against Tulsa that led to a Temple game-winning layup, Moorman’s performances have also reflected his willingness to throw his body around.
Nate Pierre-Louis has done the same.
Pierre-Louis, unlike Perry and Moorman, saw zero meaningful minutes during most of Temple’s non-conference schedule. It took until a Georgia game, where, late in a blowout, Pierre-Louis took advantage of the 6 minutes he received. He stuck his man full court and hounded him. Offensively, he was aggressive, attacking the basket with a ferocity unlike any other Temple player. After finishing with 4 points and 3 rebounds on 2-4 shooting, it was clear that was not the last we would see Pierre-Louis.
The next game, Pierre-Louis’ name was called early on, compiling 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals in a rough loss to Tulane. Again, Pierre-Louis was the team’s mere bright spot. He hasn’t looked back.
Over the past 12 games (since the December 28 Tulane contest), the New Jersey native has averaged 10.4 points per game and provided an instant scoring threat off the bench, landing him first on the team with an offensive box-plus of 4.0. It isn’t just that Pierre-Louis is scoring. It’s that his attacking mentality, on both ends, is contagious. Over the 12 game stretch, he has not just scored, but he has attacked the boards and challenged the defense, averaging an astounding 4.1 rebounds per game and 1.4 steals. He has done all this while staying under control, averaging the lowest turnover percentage on the team with 7.6 percent. It’s not often you see a player of his energy level avoid turning the ball over, but Pierre-Louis has proved he is ready to play and contribute right now.
The last of the Temple freshman is Justyn Hamilton, who has played sparingly. He totaled his largest total of minutes against highly ranked Cincinnati, where coach Dunphy surprisingly turned to him late in the first half. With the Owls down by more than 10, Dunphy looked to shake things up. Hamilton missed a jumper and would return late in the game, but by that point, it was a blowout and he has not seen meaningful minutes since.
Hamilton, who has a 7-foot wingspan and took part in the 2016 USA U17 World Championships training camp, is versatile, just like the other freshmen. He can face up and defend, which is especially intriguing when considering his size and length. While Hamilton is not playing much now, his role will be more important in the future, as Obi Enechionyia graduates this year and Ernest Aflakpui leaves next year.
Overall, however, these freshmen have given the Owls new life. They have not only helped to rejuvenate the Temple season, but they have provided Dunphy with a lively bench and players to turn to when things start to go south. They consistently make big plays, score, spark energy, and present versatility, aspects that give Temple bench depth that they haven’t had in a while. Most importantly, the freshmen have meshed with the team and Dunphy’s system, playing hard on defense and avoiding turning the ball over. That’s what Dunphy wants and that’s what these young men have given, night in and night out. And that is all a result of their never-ending, limitless energy that continues to pressure offenses, defenses, and coaching staffs alike.
-Temple loses to Penn State in the first round of the NIT tournament