Temple looking to change identity at AAC tournament

Shizz Alston, right, has been productive at the foul line but hasn’t gotten there often this season.

Is it too late in the season for Temple to change its basketball identity?

The current one simply isn’t working, as the Owls settle for too many three-pointers and don’t drive to the basket. Very little has come easy for Temple on offense, and now the Owls are looking to regroup and come out with a different focus and fire.

Easier said than done.

The seventh-seeded Owls (16-14, 8-10) will open the American Athletic Conference tournament Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.,  against No. 10 Tulane (14-16, 5-13) at 7 p.m. The teams split in the regular season, winning on each other’s home court.

Temple stats | Tulane stats | AAC bracket

Temple’s path to the NCAA is known: Win all four of its games in the AAC tournament. Otherwise, hope the NIT calls.

It’s likely if the Owls beat Tulane that the NIT would become a realistic option, but that isn’t what this Jekyll and Hyde team was looking for when the season began.

The Owls have beaten three current Associated Press Top 25 teams: No. 11 Wichita State, No. 16 Auburn, and No. 19 Clemson. But they have lost two in a row and four of their last five. In two of those losses, the Owls got off to horrible starts. They trailed by 15-0 in an 80-59 home loss to Houston and 24-0 in  a 76-58 loss at Tulsa on Sunday.

“I feel like the Tulsa game we weren’t focused before as opposed to Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State where we were locked in and came out strong and threw the first punch,” said sophomore swingman Quinton Rose, who leads the Owls with a 14.9 scoring average.

Camera icon Charles Fox / Staff
The AAC Tournament is the last chance Temple senior Obi Enechionyia has to extend his career.

The Owls had a team dinner Monday, and a big topic of conversation was the their maddening inconsistency, a penchant for settling for jump shots and how they have to get easier baskets.

“We know we could have been more successful this season if we focused more on getting to the basket, getting easy buckets,” senior forward Obi Enechionyia said. “That is something we need to do in the tournament to be successful.”

Temple coach Fran Dunphy says the Owls need to get to the foul line more. Temple is last in the 12-team AAC in free-throw attempts with 445. The next team, East Carolina, has 482.

It also hasn’t helped that Temple hasn’t been very proficient at the foul line (68.1 percent), ninth in the AAC. Still, more attempts are needed, especially by junior guard Shizz Alston. He has hit 48 of 51 free throws (94.1 percent).

“I don’t get to the line enough,” Alston said. “I will try to do that in the conference tournament, get to the line more and get easy baskets for the team.”

Changing its identity on the fly like this will be difficult for Temple, but the alternative will be a second straight year of missing the postseason.

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