Big Man On Campus

For much of the season, the Temple men's basketball team was hanging on, counting the days until center Micheal Eric's return. The Owls did a phenomenal job of replacing their senior center by pushing freshman Anthony Lee into extended duty and playing small lineups. But seven games and seven wins into Eric's return from a patella injury, the Owls are finding out what a full lineup can produce.

For much of the season, the Temple men's basketball team was hanging on, counting the days until center Micheal Eric could return to the lineup.

Truth be told, the Owls did a phenomenal job of replacing their senior center by pushing freshman Anthony Lee into extended duty and playing small lineups for long stretches.

But seven games and seven wins into Eric's return from a patella injury, the Owls find out more and more what they were missing and how much of a threat they are being finally whole.

Eric's 11-point and career-high 16-rebound performance helped Temple dominate Xavier, 85-72, on Saturday night. To say he won his matchup with Musketeer center Kenny Frease would be an understatement as the Xavier 7-footer managed just two points and one rebound in 18 minutes.

"I've always been led to believe that size doesn't really matter, it's the size of the heart," said Xavier coach Chris Mack. "Kenny Frease is 7-feet, 270 pounds, probably the biggest guy on the floor and goes two points, one rebound in just under 20 minutes. Micheal Eric has spent more time in the training room than on the practice court and goes for 11 and 16. You can't win when the discrepancy between centers is like that."

Eric played 28 minutes against the Musketeers, the most since his return. It was his third start as well since suffering the injury in practice four games into the season and missing two months.

"I think I just have to go out and play hard every day, because some days I feel soreness and I think about my injury and not wanting to get hurt again," said Eric, who missed the end of last season with a similar setback. "That's just the hurdle of not thinking about it and playing hard every possession. I felt good. I played 23 minutes the last game and it's going to be progress from here on."

At 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, Eric brings the height and size the Owls lacked when playing Lee (6-9, 210) and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (6-6, 210) and lineups that occasionally had 6-5 Aaron Brown as the tallest player on the floor. Temple is 10-1 overall when Eric plays and 9-5 when he was out.

"It's great having Mike back, he's a big presence down there," said senior guard Ramone Moore. "Since he came back, we've been on a winning streak and that shows how valuable he is to our team."

Temple coach Fran Dunphy feels Eric's offensive game is still slow to return. He is struggling to finish at the rim, but his rebounding and defensive prowess has returned.

"Mike was very active, what we talked about was trying to get him to match up with Frease as much as he could because we thought he could match that toughness and size," said Dunphy. "I thought he did a great job rebounding the ball. He missed a couple shots at the rim, which would have increased his point total, but that's what's ahead I hope. He's almost there."

The Owls are hoping Eric can continue his progression in Wednesday's game against St. Bonaventure, who boast the premier post player in the league in Andrew Nicholson. The Bonnie senior is coming off a 21-point, 23-rebound game against Duquesne and is averaging 15.6 points and 7.8 rebounds despite the opposition gearing up to stop him.

"He's a really good player, there are NBA teams looking at him for all the skills he possesses, whether it's rebounding or scoring," said Dunphy. "Will it be a tough challenge for Mike? Absolutely. He's really playing well."

But then again so is Eric, and with a healthy big man, the Owls will take their chances.

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