It was so quiet inside the Liacouras Center on Saturday night that one could clearly hear the words said by one of the announced 3,978 fans inside the building.
“Temple, when are you going to box-out?” one fan exclaimed.
The Owls got out-rebounded 36-23.
“You are not a good jump shooter, stop” another yelled at Mark Williams when he fired a 3-pointer in the second half that hit short, knocking off the front iron. He went 1-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Then, after Houston threw an inbounds pass out of bounds under its own basket, the Owls retained possession with 48.5 seconds left in an 84-77 game.
“Lot of game left, lot of game left,” a fan tried to encourage.
But a Dalton Pepper 3-point attempt got deflected by the long arm of a defender and into the hands of Houston forward Danrad Knowles, who was immediately fouled by Josh Brown. The 6-foot-10 Knowles calmly walked the length of the floor and sank a pair of free throws, putting the game away.
These factors and more all led to yet another loss for Temple on Saturday night as Houston handed the Owls their fourth straight and 16th of 18 overall, 89-79.
Temple’s poor defensive play again costed the Owls against Houston. The team allowed the Cougars to shoot 61.5 percent from the floor including 7 of 12 from deep.
“There was a stretch where we started losing them in transition and they started to get a couple of easy layups and a couple of easy three’s,” junior guard Will Cummings said. “That’s kind of their bread and butter, that’s how they beat teams. We tried to limit that and we kind of fell asleep on it sometimes.”
For the second consecutive match-up, Houston’s TaShawn Thomas was too much to handle in the post for the Owls.
After going 10-for-12 from the floor and scoring 25 points in Houston’s 14-point win against Temple on Feb. 9, Thomas was again a force. The 6-foot-8 junior forward tied for a game-high with 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting.
“He’s just a really skilled guy down inside,” coach Fran Dunphy said of Thomas. “I think his sense of urgency is better than most guys. I think he has to do well and I think we can learn from watching and playing against a guy like TaShawn Thomas.”
Joining Thomas in double figures were three Cougars. Knowles scored 19 points on a perfect 7 of 7 shooting, forward Danuel House added 13 points and nine rebounds and guard Jherrod Stiggers chipped in 10 points.
Temple (7-21, 2-14 American Conference) got 18 first half points from senior guard Dalton Pepper. But Houston was able to clamp down on Pepper, limiting him to 3 of 10 shooting in the second half. He would finish with 24 points.
“They were denying a lot so it was tough to get some open looks,” Pepper said. “They adjusted in the second half.”
Cummings scored 18 points and added eight assists while sophomore guard Quenton Decosey contributed 12 points.
Junior forward Anthony Lee, who missed Thursday’s loss to Louisville with a toe injury, did not start but was the first Owls player off of the bench. He played all 20 minutes in the second half, scoring eight points and collecting six rebounds.
Temple exploded early and led 15-6, but a 23-4 run from Houston in the middle of the first half pushed the Cougars ahead for good.
“We had our opening run,” Cummings said. “The game of basketball is about runs sometimes and they kind of just had their run, they got some stops, kind of disrupted us on offense and slowed us down.”
Temple was able to tie the game once in the second half but never claimed a lead again. The Owls trailed by as many as 14 in the second half before making a late rally in the final four minutes.
The Owls will play their final home game of the season on Tuesday night against Central Florida before traveling to South Florida next Saturday in the regular season finale. Then comes the conference tournament in Memphis, Tenn.
The attendance in the Liacouras Center on Saturday was a far cry from the nearly 10,000 spectators that packed the venue in last season’s penultimate home match-up . Then, the Owls were putting the finishing touches on an impressive regular season campaign, building momentum toward a postseason run.
This year’s team is limping to the finish line, and the ambiance on North Broad displayed that.
“If we’re winning then we’re going to get more people to come to the game,” Dunphy said. “That’s on me and I have to get us to be playing better basketball.”
Jeff Neiburg can be reached at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.