Owls defeat Bulls, move to top of conference

The Owls defeated South Florida 77-65 at the Liacouras Center on Sunday to earn their fifth straight victory and move to first place in the American Athletic Conference standings.

Fran Dunphy said he wasn’t “elated” after his team’s 77-65 win against the South Florida on Sunday at the Liacouras Center.

But after his team had to overcome a 12-point deficit in the second half of Thursday’s win against Connecticut, Dunphy said his team’s performance was better in Sunday’s contest.

“It was a little bit,” the Owls’ coach said. “We shot it fairly well throughout, but I don’t think we defended very well.”

Temple (16-8, 10-3 American Athletic Conference) started the game shooting 14-of-18 from field, led by Obi Enechionyia.

The sophomore forward scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half while senior forward Jaylen Bond, who earned his seventh double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds, had 10 points in the first half.

The Owls, who are in first place in The American, couldn’t keep up the hot pace, closing out the first half shooting 3-of-18 from the field. South Florida freshman guard Jahmal McMurray made a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to help the Bulls cut the Owls’ lead to nine going into halftime.

“They’re a team that had nothing to lose, so they came out kind of at ease,” junior guard Josh Brown, who tied his career high with nine assists, said. “We kind of knew that coming into this game. We tried to jump on them early, but they’re a resilient team.”

The Bulls cut the deficit to four with 14 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the second half when sophomore forward Bo Zeigler converted an and-one opportunity after he was fouled on a layup attempt by Brown.

Baskets by Bond and McMurray kept the differential at four with just 13:43 remaining in the game. A two-hand dunk on a fastbreak by redshirt-junior forward Daniel Dingle sparked an 11-0 run for the Owls, helping them increase their lead to 64-49 and close out the victory.

“I thought we made two big shots in the second half just to continue to have the lead,” Dunphy said. “Devin Coleman made a three at the top of the key and [Quenton DeCosey’s] three in the corner was important for us well.”

The Bulls, led by McMurray’s 24 points, shot 55.1 percent from the field. Sunday was the first time in 11 games the Owls’ opponent shot more than 50 percent from the field.

The Owls scored 27 points off 20 turnovers by the Bulls, negating the Bulls’ higher shooting percentage. But Dunphy said he wants to see his team improve on defense.

“Again, the defensive numbers are not very good for us,” Dunphy said. “So that’s always the first line that you look at is the defense. They shot it well. I thought they made some tough shots. Obviously, the basket at the end of the first half is a momentum changer. There’s nothing you can do about that one, but there were other plays that I thought we needed to do better at.”

Temple celebrated its Big 5 tradition by honoring members of the 1990-1991 Elite Eight team during halftime. The team’s next matchup will be against rival Villanova, No. 1 in the Associated Press coaches’ poll, in a sold-out Liacouras Center.

“It’s a spectacular opportunity, in that they’re the number one team in the country… So it’s a great opportunity for our team and for our fans and for our school,” Dunphy said. “The challenge will be great, and the opportunity is great as well.”

Evan Easterling can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling

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