Shizz Alston Jr. drove to the paint, hung in the air and beat the first-half buzzer.
The Temple University senior guard’s floater capped a seven-point run to close the first half of the Owls’ 80-69 victory against Tulane (4-24, 0-16 American Athletic Conference) on Sunday at the Liacouras Center. The Owls (21-8, 11-5 The American) extended the run to 15-0 coming out of halftime.
Alston and junior guard Quinton Rose combined for 51 points in Temple’s win, which put the Owls back on track after Tuesday’s loss to Memphis stopped their three-game winning streak. Rose set a new career-high with 29 points, and Alston had a milestone-filled game that included becoming the program’s 17th player to reach 1,500 career points.
A home loss to Tulane would have severely damaged the Owls’ NCAA Tournament resume. The Green Wave entered play 300th out of 353 teams in the NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings and dropped their 18th straight game and 16th straight conference game by losing to Temple.
The Owls began play No. 55 in the NET rankings and as a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament in CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm’s projection from Sunday morning.
“We know that none of that stuff matters if we don’t win,” Alston said. “If we take a loss, then it doesn’t matter bubble or projections. We’ll be out. So we just gotta focus on winning. It’s about us right now.”
Alston had a record-setting game. He became the eighth player in program history to record 400 career assists.
He also set a school record by making at least one 3-pointer in his 40th consecutive game. In the 40 games, Alston has shot 38 percent from 3-point range. Alston beat the previous mark of 39 games set by Dionte Christmas in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.
The former Phoenix Suns forward tweeted at Alston on Saturday to wish him luck breaking the record and attended Sunday’s game.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Alston said. “I grew up watching him. I used to come down here and hang out with him a little bit when I was younger, watch him play. So it means a lot that he came and saw me break the record and that he enjoyed the game.”
Temple’s pivotal 15-0 run gave the team its largest lead of the game of 21 points at 51-30. The Green Wave responded with an 11-0 run to make the score 51-41. Before Tulane started the run, sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis missed a transition layup that would have put the Owls up by 23 points.
“All of a sudden, you have this momentum and everybody’s expecting you to do this and then it turned back to them,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I don’t think we played as smart as we needed to in that stretch. I thought we quick shot a number of possessions there.”
During the run, Green Wave sophomore guard Caleb Daniels scored six points. The Owls limited Tulane’s leading scorer to five points on 2-of-7 shooting in the first half, but Daniels scored 13 points in the second half.
The Green Wave briefly cut its deficit to single digits when Connor Crabtree made a layup with 12 minutes, six seconds left to make the score 56-48. Sophomore forward Justyn Hamilton made a dunk on the Owls’ next possession, and Temple extended its lead to as many as 16 points with 2:48 left.
Junior center Damion Moore made his fourth consecutive start and scored 10 points. He started strong with eight points on 4-of-4 shooting in the first seven minutes. Moore started in place of senior center Ernest Aflakpui, who has been battling a nagging injury and came off the bench.
Dunphy also played Hamilton at center, especially in the second half. He felt Hamilton had a better chance at defending on the perimeter against Tulane redshirt-junior forward Samir Sehic, who scored 15 of his team-high 24 points in the first half.
Tulane committed 14 turnovers to Temple’s seven, and the Owls took advantage of the Green Wave’s mistakes by scoring 21 points off turnovers.
The Owls also excelled at getting to the basket. They scored 36 points in the paint, with Rose scoring 10 of them in the first half.
“He finished at the rim as well as he has in any game that he’s played over the last three years,” Dunphy said.
The Owls had an opportunity to clinch one of the top four spots in the league and a first-round bye in the conference tournament if they beat Memphis on Tuesday, but instead, they’ll have to wait until their regular-season finale against Central Florida on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
First, Temple has a matchup against UConn (14-15, 5-11 The American) on Thursday night in Storrs, Connecticut. The Owls beat the Huskies, 81-63, at the Liacouras Center last month.
Huskies redshirt-sophomore guard Alterique Gilbert, a double-figure scorer, didn’t play in the first matchup between the two teams but has since returned to the court.
“We just got to focus on boxing out,” Alston said. “They’ve got some bigs inside, so we’ve got to focus on that this week coming up.”
“It’ll be a good challenge, but I think we’re up for it,” Rose said. “I think we’ll be fine if we come out there and do what we’re supposed to do.”