Lost leads and several close wins

After five consecutive wins in conference play, the Owls face No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday.

Coach Fran Dunphy stands on the sidelines during the Owls’ win on Sunday. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN TTN

Fran Dunphy has developed a habit.

In recent games, a decision by one of his players caused the coach to put his hands on his head in frustration before slowly moving them down, until his face rests in his palms as he reflects for a brief moment.

Junior guard Josh Brown’s missed pull-up jumpshot from a few feet inside the 3-point arc sparked the reaction with less than seven minutes left in Thursday’s 63-58 win against Connecticut.

Senior forward Jaylen Bond triggered the same response 5:38 into the second half of Sunday’s 77-65 win against South Florida when he caught the ball in the paint and then tossed it to an opponent wearing green instead of one of his teammates.

After Sunday’s victory, the Owls have won five straight games, but Dunphy continues to remain uneasy on the sidelines.

“Personally, I just think that’s the type of coach he is,” Bond said. “He’s always going to be on edge. He never wants us to lose a game.”

Prior to the victory against the Bulls, Temple won its last four games by seven points or fewer.The team’s average margin of defeat in those games was five points.

The Owls have trailed in the second half three times during their recent winning streak. Temple overcame 12-point second half deficits in its win against UConn on Thursday and a Feb. 4 win against Tulsa.

After trailing by nine at halftime on Sunday, the Bulls cut Temple’s lead to four points with 13:43 left in the second half before the Owls used an 11-0 run to pull away.

“We’ve had some very, very close games,” Dunphy said. “It wasn’t something I was looking forward to, another one today, but I think South Florida gave everything they had.”

While UConn sits in fourth in the conference standings at 8-4 and Tulsa ranks sixth at 8-5, Temple’s other three wins during its five-game win streak came against teams with sub-.500 conference records.

The Owls needed a replay review wiping off Central Florida’s last-second basket to avoid going into overtime on Feb. 6 against the Knights, who are 5-7 in The American. The other two victories came against the Bulls, who sit in last place at 2-10 in the conference.

“Coach said at the beginning of the season, ‘We can beat any team in the country, we can lose to any team in the country,’” Brown said. “So we just gotta stick with it. Sometimes our shot’s not falling. Sometimes we can’t get stops, but we just stick with it and just find a way to win.”

The Owls past five wins have moved them into sole-possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference with a record of 10-3.

The winning streak, which started with a 70-63 victory against South Florida on Jan. 31, is the Owls’ longest streak of the season.

“We just like to win, man,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Temple is shooting 41.9 percent from the field in its past five games , which is 1.1 percent better than the team’s season average.

Opponents are shooting 43.4 percent from the field against the Owls since the Jan. 31 win at South Florida. On the season opponents are shooting 41.6 percent against Temple’s defense.

“Our shot selection and also our defense,” Bond said are two areas the team can improve. “We have to play better team defense to be the best team we want to be.”

The Owls face Villanova, the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 Poll, on Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

Temple has lost its past two games against its Big 5 rival, including an 85-62 loss to the Wildcats last year.

“I’m sure they heard Villanova talk after the Connecticut game,” Dunphy said. “Not from us. We talked about South Florida. I think they’re OK, but we need to play our best basketball every time out.”

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue

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