Tough times have befallen the men’s basketball team.
The Owls have lost five games in a row, the most recent to Central Florida on Sunday when they went more than 10 minutes without scoring in the second half.
Temple (7-8, 0-4 American Athletic Conference) will take its losing streak, its longest since its eight-game skid on the way to a 9-22 record in the 2013-14 season, into Wednesday night’s matchup against Southern Methodist (12-5, 2-2 The American) in Dallas.
All five of the Mustangs’ starters average double figures in points. Southern Methodist allows just 60.8 points per game, which ranks eighth in Division I and third in The American behind Cincinnati (14-2, 3-0 The American) and Central Florida (12-4, 3-1 The American).
“You have to step up and make shots when they are given to you, and there’s not many of those,” coach Fran Dunphy said on The American’s monthly teleconference. “You’ve got to pay attention to your details. And you have to defend, and take care of the ball of course, but defend like crazy and show that you are ready for the balance that they present to you.”
The Mustangs have won 33 games in a row on their home floor at Moody Coliseum. If they beat Temple, they’ll match the program record of 34 straight home wins from Feb. 2, 1954, to Feb. 26, 1957. Though it has a 4-0 record in neutral-site games this season, Temple has yet to win a road game.
Dunphy called the Mustangs’ winning streak at Moody Coliseum “special” and said “you have to play your best basketball game” to beat them.
Temple hasn’t done that recently. Dunphy said the Owls’ half-court defense has been good of late, but their offense has struggled.
During the five-game losing streak, the Owls have averaged 61.2 points per game, 7.7 points less than their season average. They tallied a season-low 39 points against Central Florida and scored just 60 in their last win against Drexel.
Even when the Owls do score, they aren’t guaranteed to win. Last season, Temple had a 15-1 record when it scored 70 or more points. This season, Temple is 4-3 in such games. Eighty-three points weren’t enough to beat La Salle on Nov. 26, 2017. The Owls scored 75 in their conference opener against Tulane and scored 73 against Houston but lost both games.
Like Temple, Southern Methodist is winless on the road, including its back-to-back losses to Tulane and Cincinnati on Thursday and Sunday. The Mustangs lost a 12-point, second-half lead against Tulane, and they lost by 20 against Cincinnati.
Junior guard Shake Milton, the preseason American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, had strong performances in both games. He combined to shoot 14-for-24 from the field and score 38 points.
“He’s been terrific,” Mustangs’ coach Tim Jankovich said. “I wouldn’t trade him for the world. He’s a great young man. He’s a great competitor. He’s talented, unselfish, all about all the right things and so versatile, can hurt another team in so many ways.”
Temple shot 32.1 percent from the field in its losses to Cincinnati and Central Florida. Shooting 11-for-14 from the free-throw line against the Bearcats helped the Owls have a chance to upset the nationally ranked team. But Temple only took one free throw against Central Florida.
Temple maintains a top-50 Ratings Percentage Index mark due to the third strongest nonconference strength of schedule in Division I and wins against one-loss Clemson University and Auburn University teams that have cracked the national top-25 polls.
The Owls’ NCAA Tournament hopes, however, might fade if their losing streak continues.
“Where we will be at the end of the year is a mystery at this point,” Dunphy said. “I’m hoping that we can come back to where we were in terms of our success rate. This is a very difficult league and well coached and well played. We’ve got our hands full but looking forward to the challenge.”