Temple’s underclassmen being tested during losing season

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Temple has won just one of its past 10 games. The season wasn’t projected to be like this.

The Owls were expected to have a talented recruiting class to help back up three returning seniors. Last season, Temple finished second in the American Athletic Conference with a 24-8 overall record and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

Temple was picked to finish third in the American Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll. After losing last season’s second-leading scorer — senior guard Alliya Butts — to a torn ACL in October, the Owls (10-14, 2-9 The American) sit in second-to-last place in the conference.

Though senior guard Khadijah Berger isn’t having the season she and her teammates envisioned, she said there’s still meaning in the games.

“It’s all about relationships at this point,” Berger said. “We can’t let what’s happened in the past determine our future. It is a little disappointing that people are saying we’re not going to make postseason, but we’re just trying to finish hard and prepare the young guys for next year.”

“I’ve just been telling them, ‘Keep pushing,’” senior guard Tanaya Atkinson said. “We got to learn how to fight. While they’re young, this will be a really good test for when they get older because they should have that fight in them for what they’re going through this year. I feel like it’s going to make them grow into something really good and really big.”

Berger said being one of the leaders on a team that has six freshmen has been a “journey” of watching the underclassmen have mental lapses. Overall, she said they have become more comfortable at the Division I level.

Freshman guard Desiree Oliver said taking a possession-by-possession approach helps her stay confident even during the current slump.

In the past five games, Oliver has cut down on her turnovers. She hasn’t committed more than two turnovers since the Owls played Penn on Jan. 21. In her previous 10 games, Oliver averaged 2.6 turnovers per game.

She calls improvements like this “small victories” that will eventually help the team in the future. Oliver credited Berger and Atkinson with helping her progress through this season.

“I think in my position as a point guard, just being able to handle the pace of the game I have improved on that a little bit,” Oliver said. “It means a lot coming from [Berger and Atkinson], considering the season that they had last year.”

Freshman forward Breanna Perry said the biggest thing she is learning is the mentality needed to compete at the college level. Perry, like Oliver, said having seniors like Berger and Atkinson makes the transition easier.

Perry is one of two freshmen who has played every game. She is third on the team with 71 rebounds. Perry is also third on the team with nine blocks but hasn’t recorded one in the past six games.

“It’s rough, but I’m not the only one that’s going through this,” Perry said. “The whole team is. Just like how I need my teammates to keep their heads up and keep pushing through it, they need me to keep my head up and keep pushing through it. Everybody needs each other, and you can’t just be in your own head and give up.”

Despite the recent struggles of the team, Perry sees it as beneficial for the coming years.

“It’ll get better because we can only go up from here,” she said. “Having [Berger and Atkinson] here in their last year I feel is very helpful. … They’ve helped me get through it, so next year I think I’ll have the building blocks to get through it myself.”

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