Temple Men’s Basketball (16-14, 10-7 American Athletic Conference) beat the University of Central Florida (16-13, 7-10 The American) 57-55 on Thursday night at The Liacouras Center. After losing five of their last six games, a strong defensive performance helped the Owls bounce back for a much-needed victory as the regular season nears an end.
With eight seconds remaining and with Temple trailing by one, guard Damian Dunn drove to the basket and drew a foul to get to the free-throw line. After making the game-tying free throw, Dunn missed the second but forward Nick Jourdain collected the offensive rebound and put up a game-winning layup with less than a second on the clock.
“I wish I dunked it,” Jourdain said. “There’s no way to describe it but I was definitely a bit tense, I thought I was gonna miss it and I thought ‘This is too easy, someone is gonna come up and block me or something,’ but I happened to make it.”
Temple led by as much as 11 in the second half, but a combined 24 second-half points from UCF guards C.J. Kelly and Taylor Hendricks helped the Knights tie the game at 50 with less than three minutes remaining. UCF took the lead on two occasions in the final 30 seconds after Kelly and Hendricks made mid-range jumpers, but the Owls responded with free throws from Dunn and Jourdain’s last second layup to regain the lead both times.
“It’s a good sign when you can play in the mud a little bit,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “I don’t like too much being in those sorts of games but I’ll take it because it goes in the book. We didn’t do everything right but we did enough things right to win the game.”
While guard Khalif Battle remains away from the team for personal reasons, Dunn has been forced to take command of the backcourt for Temple. The academic senior, who scored 34 points in the Owls’ 88-83 overtime loss to Cincinnati (19-11, 10-7 The American) on Feb. 22, finished his senior night with just 11 points tonight.
Forwards Nick Jourdain and Kur Jongkuch picked up the slack for Dunn early on the offensive side, combining for 10 of the team’s 22 first-half points. Jourdain also finished the contest with nine rebounds as well as a massive chasedown block on UCF guard Ithiel Horton.
“Throughout my career here at Temple there’s been times where I’ve hesitated and questioned myself,” Jourdain said. “I feel like I’m really learning to just play my game and playing confident and really just doing what I can do.”
Temple fell behind early following a pair of buckets from Hendricks, including one from beyond the arc, but back-to-back dunks from Jongkuch and a three-pointer from guard Hysier Miller gave the Owls their first lead of the game with eight minutes remaining in the first half.
Temple held UCF to less than 30 percent from the floor and forced eight turnovers in the first half. Despite the strong performance on defense, the Owls struggled to take advantage in transition and could not knock down multiple open shot attempts. As a team, the Owls made just eight of their 24 first-half field goals.
Kelly made a three-pointer to tie the game at 18 in the closing minutes of the half, but a hookshot and a pair of free throws from guard Jahlil White helped the Owls take a 22-20 lead into halftime.
In the early stages of the second half, Temple was more efficient on offense. Dunn, who missed each of his five first half shot attempts, knocked down a pair of mid-range jump shots. Threes on back-to-back possessions from Miller and Hicks helped put the Owls up by nine points with just less than 13 minutes remaining.
With the win, the Owls have now clinched a first-round bye in next week’s American Athletic Conference tournament. A win on Sunday in their regular season finale would catapult the Owls to the third seed in the tournament, a feat that seemed unlikely as little as a week ago. The third seed would also allow Temple to avoid top-seeded Houston (27-2, 15-1 The American) until a potential championship game matchup.
“We talked about the standings this morning,” Jourdain said. “We knew how much this mattered and we are definitely chasing that third place now though.”
The Owls will look to close the regular season on a high note when they travel to New Orleans to take on Tulane (17-10, 10-6 The American) on March 5 at 2 p.m.
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