With 11:28 remaining in the second half, Markus Kennedy tipped the ball into the Temple basket. That wouldn’t normally be a noteworthy event – but Kennedy, a redshirt-sophomore forward, plays for Southern Methodist.
Devontae Watson was the closest Temple player to the play and got credit for the basket. After the play, he clapped in excitement.
“I was just clapping because [Kennedy] put it in for us,” the sophomore forward/center said. “He scored. He was scoring for us, and they gave me the basket, so I had to congratulate him, thank him.”
That basket put Temple (7-17, 2-10 American Athletic Conference) ahead for good as the Owls won 71-64 against No. 23 SMU (20-6, 9-4 The American). Redshirt-senior guard Dalton Pepper led all scorers with 24 points.
“It feels good to finally pull one through,” Pepper said. “Cincinnati was a close game, down to the wire. Today I think we played well as a team. We played a lot better on the defensive end. I think that’s what helped us win this game.”
“When we went to Dallas, they outplayed us, they outhustled us,” Pepper added. “I think it was the other way around today.”
Redshirt-junior forward Anthony Lee didn’t play after sustaining a knee injury against Louisville on Friday. Watson and freshman forward Mark Williams combined for 18 points and 15 rebounds in Lee’s absence.
“Mark is a pretty good offensive rebounder,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He’s gotten a lot of numbers over the course of the year. Devontae can do better than he has been doing. Today he gives you three offensive rebounds, which were great. He’s so stinking long, and he’s got some pretty good quickness to him. I thought he showed pretty good hands today… These two guys really gave it a real good effort.
After struggling on defense for the last few games, the Owls held SMU to 64 points, the fewest Temple has allowed this season.
“I think we got to spots better today than we have been getting to spots,” Dunphy said. We can still do much, much better than we did but I think we did some better things today on the defensive end.”
SMU started off strongly with an 11-2 run, with five of those points coming from redshirt-sophomore guard Nic Moore. After the first media timeout, Temple closed the gap, pulling the gap to four before Kennedy got a basket to make the score 18-12.
The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes, with SMU gaining one point on Temple. The Owls then went on a 10-2 run, behind two three-pointers from Williams, to take a 27-26 lead. After a bucket from freshman forward Ben Moore, Pepper hit a three-pointer, his tenth point of the game. SMU tied the game, but Temple took a 34-30 lead into halftime after free throws from Williams and a basket from Pepper.
After both teams scored to open the second half, the Mustangs went on an 11-2 run – the same run they opened the game with – to take a 43-39 lead. Following a Temple timeout, sophomore forward Devontae Watson pulled off a one-handed dunk to stop the run. The teams went back and forth until Temple went on a 8-1 run, forcing SMU to call a timeout with 9:41 remaining.
After junior guard Ryan Manuel made three free throws to bring the score to 55-52 Temple, sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey responded with two free throws. Moore scored SMU’s next four points to close the gap to one. The next six points were all from free throws – two from Cummings, two from Moore and two from Pepper. The Owls entered the final media timeout leading 61-58.
Moore came out of the timeout and missed two free throws. After Pepper got a layup to go on the other end, he was called for his fourth foul on redshirt-guard Shawn Williams. Williams missed both shots, but was fouled again on the other end by Mark Williams. Shawn Williams missed both free throws again, maintaining Temple’s 63-58 lead.
Pepper hit two free throws to extend the Owls’ lead to seven and Moore responded by breaking his team’s seven-shot long free throw drought, making one of two from the line. Redshirt-junior forward Jimmy McDonnell was fouled on the other end and made one of two shots. The Owls were able to seal the game from there through free-throw shooting.
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.