WORTH THE WAIT: Perkins scores 33 as TC rolls past Our Lady of the Lake JV in debut for coach Ellis
SUCCESSFUL START: Clifton Ellis made his debut as head coach of the Temple College men's basketball team Saturday afternoon as the Leopards beat the Our Lady of the Lake University junior varsity 139-86 at TC Gym. Ellis, 43, was an all-conference and all-region point guard at TC for head coach Kirby Johnson during the mid-1990s. Johnson retired last year after coaching the Leopards to 715 wins in 33 seasons. Ellis tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago and had to quarantine away from his team. He was cleared to return Friday. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
In a normal season, the Temple College men's basketball team would be approximately two-thirds of the way through its 30-game schedule and about halfway through its 14-game conference slate.
Of course, factors stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have turned 2020-21 into anything but a normal season.
So on the penultimate day of January, the Leopards finally played their season opener and their first game with new head coach Clifton Ellis, the former TC standout point guard who succeeded Kirby Johnson, his coach in the mid-1990s, as the leader of Temple's program.
After testing positive for the coronavirus two weeks ago and then quarantining at home while TC's first three games were canceled, Ellis didn't know whether his Leopards would be able to host the Our Lady of the Lake University junior varsity on Saturday afternoon at TC Gym until he tested negative on Friday and received clearance to rejoin his squad.
In their long-awaited season opener, the Leopards absorbed their coach's pregame advice and savored the opportunity to finally get on the court together and play a real game.
Sophomore guard Khouri Perkins exploded for a career-high 33 points, freshman guard Elijah Lomas scored 23, sophomore forward Aleu Aleu produced 15 of his 19 in the first half and freshman guard Sherrod Whitley made six 3-point shots for his 18 points as fast-paced Temple began the Ellis era by cruising to a 139-86 win over the San Antonio-based Saints.
“We've just been eager to get back out there and just compete, to be honest, because we've been playing against each other for months. So it was good to finally come out and play a real game against different competition,” said the 6-foot-2 Perkins, who scored 14 points in the first half, 19 in the second and made two 3-pointers in each half. “It's just been not knowing when exactly we're going to play a game, games getting canceled, all that stuff. So we're just taking it day-by-day.”
CAREER-BEST PERFORMANCE: Temple College sophomore guard Khouri Perkins scored a career-high 33 points Saturday afternoon to lead the Leopards to a season-opening 139-86 win over the Our Lady of the Lake University junior varsity at TC Gym. The 6-foot-2 Perkins, who averaged 6.1 points in reserve duty last season, made four 3-point shots, nine 2-point field goals and all three free throw attempts. Joining him as double-figure scorers for Temple were Elijah Lomas with 23 points, Aleu Aleu with 19, Sherrod Whitley with 18 and Davion Sargent-Young with 14. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Freshman point guard Davion Sargent-Young contributed 14 points for the Leopards, giving them five scorers in double figures. Freshman point guard Kristopher O'Neal had nine points and freshman forwards Maison Adeleye and Tabarius Jolly added eight apiece for Temple, which had 10 of its 13 players active Saturday. The other three, including sophomore point guard and projected starter Tyler Watkins, are expected to return soon from COVID-19-related protocols.
Before his TC coaching debut, the 43-year-old Ellis urged his players – who have endured adjustments such as virtual learning and limited-attendance practices during this disjointed school year – to embrace the opportunity and have fun playing the game.
“We haven't had the practice time together, and of course (my) being off. You know, I'm glad they had a good attitude about it,” said Ellis, who credited assistant coach Mitchell McMullen for leading practices during Ellis' quarantine period.
“My message before the game was really, 'There's a lot going on. We haven't been able to practice and we have guys filling new roles and guys are just arriving on the team. Don't let all of that get in the way of having a good time playing basketball. This is normally the time of year when you'd be in the middle of conference. Now we get a chance to go out there and just play. Why sit there and complain? Just go play and see what happens.' That was the main message.”
David Favorite made seven 3-pointers off the bench and paced the Our Lady of the Lake JV with 22 points. Jonathan Ochoa scored 19 points for the NAIA-affiliated Saints, who also got 12 from Tyriel Collins, 11 from Aidan Torres and 10 from Quincey Shepherd.
Watching from the stands was Johnson, the Temple native who retired last year after 33 seasons and 715 victories as TC's head coach. He closed his career by guiding the Leopards to 10 consecutive NJCAA Region V Tournament berths. Eleven months after attending Johnson's final home win, Ellis was back on the court to receive congratulations from Johnson as they chatted after his first victory as a college head coach.
“I'm just glad to be back here, and of course seeing Coach Johnson here is great and the people who have been here for so many years. Obviously now I have to stand up here and make decisions instead of waiting to be subbed in as a player and being on the court,” said Ellis, an all-conference and all-region performer who as a sophomore helped lead the 1996-97 Leopards to the Region V title game.
Perkins, a reserve player on Johnson's final TC team that went 24-7, said the adjustment from playing for Johnson to Ellis has been essentially seamless.
“It's been pretty much the same. We just come out and work hard every day at practice,” Perkins said. “He makes it easy for us.”
PLAN OF ATTACK: Temple College first-year head coach Clifton Ellis confers with freshman point guard Davion Sargent-Young (2) during the Leopards' season-opening 139-86 win over the Our Lady of the Lake junior varsity on Saturday afternoon at TC Gym. Sargent-Young scored 14 points. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Our Lady of the Lake hung tough for the first 5 minutes as Shepherd made two 3-pointers and a floater to keep Temple's early lead a slim one at 11-10, but the Leopards dominated the next 3 minutes to pull away from the Saints for good.
Whitley, who sat out last season at TC as a redshirt, sparked TC's 16-0 run by making two 3-pointers from the right side, with a driving basket by Perkins in between. Tawab Kokumo, a 6-8 freshman forward, scored off his offensive rebound, the Leopards deflected an inbound pass to set up an easy hoop for Perkins, Aleu threw down a two-handed dunk off a Perkins lob and Aleu punctuated the flurry by knifing into the lane for another bucket and a 27-10 Temple lead 12:19 before halftime.
Our Lady of the Lake made a brief recovery as Favorite got hot from 3-point range, but Aleu – the wiry 6-8 Texas-San Antonio signee who averaged 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 30 starts last season – then made a putback and an open 3-pointer for a 38-18 advantage at the 7:41 mark.
The Leopards erased any realistic chance for a Saints comeback when they compiled a 15-0 run late in the first half. Sargent-Young got the roll on his 3 from up top, Perkins drilled a left-corner 3 and Aleu and Lomas scored consecutive baskets off steals before Perkins sank a right-wing 3 in transition and turned his steal into a layup for a commanding 62-30 lead with 2:43 left. Whitley's fourth 3 came with 22 seconds remaining and gave Temple a 67-36 halftime advantage.
“We like to play fast and score a lot of points,” said Perkins, who thought he hadn't scored 30-plus points in a game since early in his high school career at San Antonio Stevens.
Ellis admired Perkins' game while coaching Schertz Clemens in the San Antonio area, and he's seeing continued development from the slender sophomore guard who scored 6.1 points per game last season as a backup.
“What you see from Khouri is that our style really fits what he does. If he just stays within the system, he's going to make a lot of plays,” Ellis said of Perkins. “He's going to be one of those guys that at the end of the night, you look up and he's got 20 points and you're like, 'How did he do that? Where did that come from?' It's not a forced deal.
“He's been a pleasure to coach. He's always just had a lot of poise about him, and coming here and having a chance to coach him, it's the same thing. Even though he doesn't speak a lot, he's one of the leaders about how we should approach practice and our work.”
Temple College freshman guard Kristopher O'Neal (4) defends Quincey Shepherd of the Our Lady of the Lake University junior varsity during the Leopards' season-opening 139-86 win Saturday at TC Gym. Looking on for Temple are freshmen Elijah Lomas (left) and Tabarius Jolly (22). (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The 6-5, offensive-minded Lomas scored seven points – two driving buckets and a 3 – in a 40-second span to extend Temple's lead to 88-53 6 minutes into the second half. Perkins then scored a putback hoop, hit a left-corner 3 and, after Aleu's dunk off a steal, made an NBA-range 3 while being fouled. He completed the rare 4-point play for a 103-60 advantage with 10:18 remaining, and the Leopards cruised from there to a season-opening 53-point win.
“It's just a learning process. Last year I learned a lot from those guys, so this year I know the game and have a feel for it and what shots I can take,” Perkins said. “I've worked on my body and my jump shot, defense and being a more physical presence out there.”
Temple will return to action at 7 p.m. Monday when it hosts Dallas-based Tribulation Prep in a rescheduled game that originally was set for Jan. 23.
MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Temple College 139,
Our Lady of the Lake University JV 86
OLLU – David Favorite 22, Jonathan Ochoa 19, Tyriel Collins 12, Aidan Torres 11, Quincey Shepherd 10, Jose Herrera 8, Diego Torres 4.
Temple (1-0) – Khouri Perkins 33, Elijah Lomas 23, Aleu Aleu 19, Sherrod Whitley 18, Davion Sargent-Young 14, Kristopher O'Neal 9, Maison Adeleye 8, Tabarius Jolly 8, Tawab Kokumo 4, Mawien Mawien 3.
3-point goals – Our Lady of the Lake 13 (Favorite 7, Herrera 2, Shepherd 2, Collins 1, A. Torres 1); Temple 15 (Whitley 6, Perkins 4, Lomas 3, Aleu 1, Sargent-Young 1).
Free throws – Our Lady of the Lake 11-20; Temple 8-13.
Halftime score – Temple 67, Our Lady of the Lake 36.