Owls lose third straight in first American home game

South Florida topped Temple in the first matchup of the teams since the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Freshman guard Josh Brown played 27 minutes, a career high, in Thursday's loss. // HUA ZONG // TTN
Freshman guard Josh Brown played 27 minutes, a career high, in Thursday's loss. // HUA ZONG // TTN

As Temple and South Florida played tonight, two of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis and Louisville battled at the Cardinals’ arena. The Tigers, Temple’s opponent on Saturday, won 73-67.

When redshirt-junior forward Anthony Lee was told of Memphis’ victory, his eyes widened and he exhaled.

“They did?” he asked. “Wow.”

The Owls (5-8, 0-3 The American) have lost three straight games, falling to USF (10-6, 1-2 The American) 82-75. Lee led the team with 22 points, followed by sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey, who had 20. The loss saw the Owls lose another player to injury, as junior guard Will Cummings left the game late in the first half with concussion-like symptoms. Coach Fran Dunphy said Cummings will undergo tests Friday, and his status for the Memphis matchup has yet to be determined. As of now, the team has seven healthy players.

“It hurts us, obviously,” Dunphy said. “He’s a good basketball player and we need his speed and quickness and his leadership. But he got hurt. There’s nothing you can do about it. [Freshman guard] Josh Brown, we needed him in there just about the whole second half… We need to have as many guys healthy [as possible], and we’re struggling a little bit with that.”

Freshman guard Josh Brown played 27 minutes, a career high, in Thursday's loss. // HUA ZONG // TTN
Freshman guard Josh Brown played 27 minutes, a career high, in Thursday’s loss. // HUA ZONG // TTN

“It’s heartbreaking, a little bit,” Lee said. “We know we don’t have many bodies, so it’s a real tough challenge. We don’t want to have to make any excuses. It is tough when you think about somebody else going down and knowing that you really don’t have many people that can really step up. We know our core guys on the court are trying to do what they can.”

Junior forward Jimmy McDonnell had a career game, scoring 10 points and grabbing five rebounds, both career highs. McDonnell more than doubled his career points total – he had nine coming into tonight.

“I guess it was pretty cool, but it didn’t end in a win, so not really that good,” McDonnell said.

The lack of depth has forced the Owls’ starters to play a lot of minutes. With the exception of the LIU-Brooklyn game – a 101-65 blowout win – Temple’s core players have barely missed any time since the 81-80 overtime loss to Texas on Dec. 7. DeCosey and redshirt-senior guard Dalton Pepper have each played 200 of 205 minutes in those games.

“Hopefully Mark Williams will get back soon,” Dunphy said. “He can give us some help up front, certainly, with Anthony Lee. As soon as we can get Will back, we will, and at least there’s some rotation with giving those guys rest. There’s a lot of timeouts that are out there, and we used them. We need to try to get ourselves as rested as we can because this turnaround is going to be very quick for the Memphis game. There’s not a lot we can do about it at this point.”

Ten of Temple’s 13 games have been decided by less than 10 points, and the Owls are 3-7 in those games.

“We’ve got to do something,” Lee said. “Be more close as a team. Be tighter than ever. Now we don’t know the conditions of certain players… {Jimmy] played his best game tonight. It’s forcing players to do things they didn’t have to do, but it’s going to give them confidence.

“But at the same time, there’s only so many players that we can go to now,” Lee added. “It’s not like we lost three players and we have four more players that can just step in. We have people that are still trying to grow into a role because they didn’t get to play that much last year, like [junior guard] Nick [Pendergast] and [sophomore forward/center] Devontae [Watson]. They’re still trying to learn. Throwing them into the fire real quick might be a little bit tougher because it’s a new conference, tougher defenses and things like that. We have to become closer brother and try to do what we’ve got to do.”

Temple opened up the game with five straight points, and South Florida came back with a 6-2 run into the first media timeout. This was a sloppy stretch marked by the Knights outrebounding Temple 7-2 as well as USF committing 4 turnovers.

After the break, the Owls went on a 8-2 run, led by Lee, who powered in for a layup and hit an elbow jumper. Temple continued to hold its lead despite a stretch where USF scored four straight points to make the score 22-16 Temple.

DeCosey hit one of two free throws right before the under-8 media timeout.  Senior forward Victor Rudd scored five straight to pull USF within two. An alley-oop from senior guard Martino Brock to freshman center John Egbunu tied the game at 23. The teams traded baskets until the under-4 timeout, with the score 27-26 Owls.

With 3:40 to go, Cummings left the game with concussion-like symptoms and did not return, leaving Temple with seven healthy players. USF went up by four when Rudd hit a three with 2:22 to go in the half. Redshirt-senior guard Dalton Pepper answered with a three on the next possession, kicking off a 7-1 run by Temple. After two Rudd free throws, the Owls turned the ball over after Pepper didn’t get a shot off before the shot clock expired. USF missed a long shot at the buzzer, going into halftime with a 34-34 tie.

The Owls went on a 7-2 run to open the second half, giving them a 41-36 advantage before Brock made four straight to bring the Bulls within one. Junior forward Jimmy McDonnell hit his second three of the game, followed by a fast-break layup by Brown, giving the Owls a 46-40 advantage into a media timeout.

Temple continued to increase their lead, getting ahead by double digits after a Dalton Pepper free throw made the score 54-44 Owls. The Bulls then went on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to two.

With 10:45 to go, freshman forward Chris Perry was called for his fourth foul. He then fouled out after getting a technical foul for slamming the ball on the floor. On the next possession, Pepper blocked a layup from behind, leading to McDonnell getting fouled. McDonnell made both of his free throws, giving him 10 points on the night. He has nine total in his career before the game. Shortly thereafter, Lee made his first career three-pointer, giving Temple a 66-56 lead.

USF followed that up with another 8-0 run, which was broken when Pepper hit another three. USF then scored eight straight again, punctuated by two three-pointers on consecutive possessions by senior guard Musa Abdul-Aleem., giving the Bulls a 72-69 lead.

Brown hit a layup to cut the deficit to one. After a few misses, Brock hit a layup and was fouled by McDonnell with 3:17 to go. Brock hit the free throw. Temple pulled back within one thanks to a DeCosey three. Egbunu got a layup on the ensuing possession. Lew then got fouled and went to the line, missing both. Rudd hit a jumper and then fouled DeCosey on the other end with 24.6 seconds to go. DeCosey made one of two, making the score 79-75 USF, who put the game away with free throws.

Evan Cross can be reached at evan.cross@temple.edu or on Twitter @EvanCross.

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