With just over 16 minutes left to play in the second half of his team’s American Athletic Conference matchup with Houston Thursday night, senior Will Cummings struggled to gain control of the ball as he lead the Owls on the fast break. Out of the corner of his eyes, the guard saw teammate Jaylen Bond streaking down the right side of the court.
Cummings hit Bond with a pass, and the junior forward knew exactly what to do with it once he was on the receiving end. Bond left his feet, cocked the ball back and threw it down over a Houston defender for the basket and the foul, and the Owls’ first lead in more than 20 minutes of game time.
Five minutes later, Cummings once again found his teammate streaking down the right side. This time, the Jacksonville, Florida native floated the ball in the air and Bond slammed it home for an alley-oop.
Both plays ignited the crowd and the Owls (20-9, 11-5 The American) as they pulled away from a Houston team that has one conference win on the year to snatch a 66-54 victory.
“It was a great play,” Bond said of Cummings’ ability to get him the ball on that first dunk. “It brought a lot of energy to myself and to my team. I felt like it helped us build momentum going into the end of the game, so it was a big play for us.”
After a few buckets early, Temple struggled for the majority of the first half.
On a 3-point basket from forward Danrad Knowles, Houston grabbed the lead at the 14:42 mark in the first half and did not look back.
Led by Knowles, who had 11 points in the first to lead all first half scorers, the Cougars shot better than 46 percent from the floor and went into the locker room up 34-29 at the break.
“They were knocking down everything in the first half,” junior guard Quentin DeCosey said. “We just said to ourselves, just keep playing good defense. Some of their shots might not fall in the second half.”
Coming off two straight losses and trailing the worst team in the conference, Temple lacked a certain urgency you might expect from a team squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The team shot 36 percent from the floor in the first half and went 1 for 4 from the free-throw line.
Coach Fran Dunphy switched things up coming out of the break. He went with a four-guard lineup to start the second half in order to better defend the Cougars.
The switch heightened the energy for the Owls, and on their first possession of the half, DeCosey found himself open underneath the basket for a two-handed slam that began the tilt of momentum toward Temple’s favor.
The smaller lineup, which did not include starting forward Devontae Watson, who did not see any time in the second half, forced seven turnovers and had 10 fast-break points including Bond’s two slams.
After the game, the Owls’ coach pointed to the fact that his team needs to turn defense into offense in order to be successful.
“It is very important,” Dunphy said of his team getting out and running in transition. “But that also means you’re doing a pretty good job on the defensive end.”
Another important aspect of the Owls’ win was a balanced scoring attack. Temple had four scorers reach double-digits in DeCosey (16), Bond (15), Cummings (14) and senior Jesse Morgan (10).
This came after two losses last week in which Cummings was the only Temple player to reach double figures.
“Will [Cummings] and Jaylen [Bond] have been sort of the standard bearers for us and now everybody else has to step up,” Dunphy said about the team’s offensive balance. “Jesse [Morgan] had some big shots in the first half. [DeCosey] came alive in the second half. We need that third scorer.”
Temple went 5 for 9 from the free-throw line in the game. This is the third straight game the Owls struggled at the charity stripe, as they shot 62 percent for the game after combining for 41.7 percent in losses against Southern Methodist and Tulsa, respectively … The Owls collected their 20th win of the season. Thursday night marked the seventh time in Dunphy’s tenure that the team has reached the 20-win plateau.
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.