The Owls shot 10 for 13 from the free-throw line in the first and second halves combined.
They went 12 for 13 in overtime.
Those shots were key for Temple (8-21, 2-14 American Athletic Conference) as it defeated Central Florida (11-17, 3-14 The American) 86-78 Tuesday night. Redshirt-senior guard Dalton Pepper led the Owls with 26 points on Senior Night.
“Obviously, we can’t win the game without shooting very, very good at the foul line,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “They shot well at the foul line as well. We had some decent looks at three, although we obviously were struggling offensively when they went zone. We tried a couple different things. to make foul shots when we got to the line was critical.”
Pepper, the team’s leading scorer with 17.5 points per game, scored 20 or more points in a second consecutive game for the first time since late January. He is the only senior player, and was presented a framed jersey before the game.
“It feels really good just to get a win in my last game at the Liacouras Center,” Pepper said. “I just wanted to end off the regular season in the right way, and that was a big win for us.”
Despite the win, Dunphy was critical of his team’s defensive performance, saying it needed to get better across the board.
“A couple of their threes were fortunate,” Dunphy said. “That’s not to suggest that our defense is solid at this point. It is not. It’s not where it needs to be. We needed help on every aspect of our defensive play, no question about it.”
Nevertheless, Dunphy said he understood the importance of the win.
“We need wins,” Dunphy said. “We need to get some more confidence about ourselves and we obviously didn’t play great. I thought they made some tough shots.”
Junior guard Will Cummings turned in an efficient performance, scoring 23 points on 11 shots from the field. He’s averaging 18.7 points per game this season against teams from Florida – Cummings’ home state.
“We’re focused on closing out the season with two wins,” Cummings said. “Just going in strong into the conference tournament… you never know what could happen, really. You can string together some wins, and there you go.”
After freshman forward Mark Williams scored the first basket of the game, UCF went on a 9-2 run. Temple was able to stop the lead from growing larger with a score from sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey. The teams traded baskets until the under-12 media timeout, when the score was 14-11 Knights.
Sophomore guard and Philadelphia native Daiquan Walker hit a long three-pointer to give the Knights a six-point lead. After a two from redshirt-junior forward Anthony Lee, sophomore guard Matt Williams hit a three to increase UCF’s lead to seven. The teams continued to trade scores for the next few possessions.
With the Knights holding a 24-18 advantage, Cummings singlehandedly scored six straight points to tie the game. After a free throw from UCF, Temple took its first lead since leading 2-0 on a Lee score. After a basket from senior guard Calvin Newell, the Owls went on a 10-2 run behind four points from Lee. Newell hit a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to cut the deficit in half. Temple led 36-33 at halftime. Newell and Lee each led their team with 12 points.
The Owls started the second half on a 12-4 run, including a stretch where the Owls scored ten straight. They were led by five points from Pepper. After that, UCF responded with a 9-2 run to make the score 50-46 with 11:46 to go.
After a media timeout, the Knights continued to surge back, taking a 53-52 lead on a sophomore forward Staphon Blair layup. Pepper hit a three on the ensuing possession to give the Owls a lead again. They built on the lead with two DeCosey free throws. The teams then traded baskets until junior forward Eugene McCrory scored four straight points to tie the game at 63 with 3:37 to go.
Coming out of the final media timeout, Cummings made two free throws to give Temple a lead. Newell took it away with a three, but Pepper responded with one on the other end. The Knights got two free throws from junior forward Kasey Wilson to tie the game at 68 with 1:48 to go.
The Owls worked down the shot clock before Lee got a layup with 1:14 to go. After Walker missed a shot, Temple ran the clock down again, only to get a missed three-pointer from Pepper. UCF called a timeout with 15.4 seconds to go, and then another one with 6.1 seconds to go before they could get a shot off.
Upon the inbound, Cummings was called for a foul, sending Newell to the line with a chance to tie with 4.7 seconds remaining. Newell made both shots, tying the game at 70. Cummings drove the length of the floor, but got his layup attempt blocked, sending the game to overtime with each team scoring 70.
The Knights opened the overtime scoring with a Matt Williams basket, and the Owls responded with two Mark Williams free throws to tie it again. Temple scored the next three points, all on free throws. After a UCF basket, Lee got a three-point play. On the other end, Lee was called for a foul on Wilson, who hit both free throws, making the score 78-76 Temple with 57 seconds remaining.
Pepper got a layup to go with 37 seconds to go, giving Temple a four-point advantage. On the other end, Wilson got called for an offensive foul, causing him to foul out and giving the Owls the ball. Cummings made two free throws, giving the Owls a six-point lead. Temple continued to make free throws to put the game away.
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.