Immediately after sophomore guard Hysier Miller tied the game at 71 in the final seconds of the second half, SMU sophomore guard Zhuric Phelps pump faked and drew a foul with three seconds remaining to get to the free throw line and put the Mustangs ahead.
“We were undisciplined,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “We were fouling, we put them on the line 30 times. You can’t win like that on the road.”
Temple Men’s Basketball (14-11, 8-4 American Athletic Conference) lost to the Southern Methodist (9-16, 4-8 The American) 72-71 on Wednesday night in Fort Worth, Texas. After falling to No. 3 Houston (23-2, 11-1 The American) on Feb. 5 to snap their four-game win streak, Temple failed to bounce back and keep pace in the conference standings on Wednesday night.
From the start, the Owls were out of rhythm offensively, scoring just five points in the first eight minutes of the contest. Redshirt sophomore Damian Dunn and sophomore Zach Hicks both made just one of their first five shots from the field, missing multiple wide open looks from beyond the arc.
The Owls were equally unimpressive on defense. As a team they racked up nine fouls before the 10-minute mark of the first half, putting SMU in the double bonus for the remainder of the period.
“I’m baffled by that,” McKie said. “I thought we had a good shoot around, guys were warmed up and ready to go and they just came out and punched us in the mouth and to our credit our guys came back and fought back in the game and we had opportunities but turnovers killed us.”
Temple took the old saying ‘Basketball is a game of runs’ to heart, producing a 28-8 run in the late stages of the first half immediately after SMU put the finishing touches on a 19-2 run of their own.
After falling behind in the final minutes of the second half, Temple again fought their way back. Redshirt sophomore Khalif Battle, who was named the American Athletic Conference player of the week on Jan. 30, continued to be the catalyst on offense for Temple, scoring 27 points, including 16 in the second half with the majority of them coming while the Owls were behind.
Just when it seemed like the Mustangs were set to take control of the game, the momentum shifted. Temple started to convert on their scoring chances while SMU began to miss on looks they were hitting at the beginning of the game. A three from Hicks put the Owls up 26-25 and gave them their first lead of the contest.
Phelps was left wide open and converted on a three-point shot in the final minute of the first half to send the Mustangs into halftime with a two point lead, halting Temple’s comeback and helping SMU recapture the momentum entering the half.
After back-and-forth play for much of the second half, Temple failed to pick up points during multiple critical possessions late in the contest. They turned the ball over 19 times with many of them coming at inopportune times, a problem that has plagued them for a large portion of the season.
“Every time we would score, they would come right down and score,” McKie said. “Then we started with the turnovers and that’s what got us in trouble, it was a snowball effect.”
The loss hurts Temple’s chances of keeping up with Tulane (16-7, 9-3 The American) and Memphis (18-6, 8-3 The American), teams who the Owls lost to earlier in the season, in the conference standings. With the top five seeds earning first-round byes in the conference tournament, the Owls will need to pull out important victories down the stretch to secure a bye and put themselves in a strong position to win the tournament and punch their ticket to their first NCAA tournament since 2019.
The Owls will look to bounce back when they remain on the road to face Memphis on Sunday at noon in an important matchup that could play a vital role in determining conference tournament seeding.
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