As the minutes winded down during the first half, Fran Dunphy couldn’t stand still.
The sixth-year Temple coach paced along the sidelines, as he often does, while a nationally-ranked Louisville squad began running away with its ninth conference victory. After the Cardinals took a 19 point lead with a Luke Hancock three, Dunphy called a timeout.
But instead of the Owls regrouping, Jimmy McDonnell turned the ball over. Hancock threw the ball up to Montrezl Harrell, who converted a reverse alley-oop. The dunk, part of a 10-2 run, silenced the Temple crowd – already quiet due to low attendance – as No. 13 Louisville went on to beat the Owls 82-58.
Temple’s defense, which ranks last in the American Athletic Conference in points allowed per game, was one of the deciding factors against the Cardinals. For the Owls, the loss began a five game stretch against nationally ranked opponents – all of which play in The American. As to why the defensive mistakes have occurred in such high amounts this season, the team was still searching for answers.
“I wish I knew,” junior guard Will Cummings said after the loss. “I don’t know.”
“Is it frustrating?” Dunphy said. “Yes it is. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t. But we’ve got to keep plugging away. We’ve got a hell of a game on Sunday against a really good basketball team so we have to be ready.”
On Sunday, less than 48 hours after the Louisville loss – for at least one game – Temple found its answers, beating No. 23 Southern Methodist 71-64. During a year where the Owls’ inexperience and youth has plagued its inaugural season in The American, the win against a ranked opponent came after two months of failure to close out games.
“I’m a big believer in ‘our turn,’” Dunphy said following the win. “I think [Sunday] was our turn to come together. More than anything else, it’s just keep pounding into their heads that everything is going to be OK. It may not come when you want it to come, but in the end, everything will be OK.”
“It’s not going to be easy as we go through the process, but that’s what this is,” Dunphy added. “It’s a process. Just keep plugging away and something good will happen.”
As the Owls enter their final six regular season games before the conference tournament, Pepper said the team wants to be prepared.
“This is when teams get better,” Pepper said. “They fall down. This is probably the best times when teams step up and play their best basketball.”
“This is a great league and anybody can beat anybody,” Pepper added. “I think if a few balls go our way, a few bounce our way then I think we can beat anyone as well.”
Sophomore forward/center Devontae Watson finished the game with eight points and a team-leading eight rebounds. Watson said Dunphy’s confidence, despite a handful of losing streaks, has been noticeable this season.
“He’s telling us that we can win the game and that it’s on us as much as it’s on the coaching staff for us to come together and play like we know how to play,” Watson said.
“The other losses that we had aren’t really the way that we play,” Watson added. “This game [Sunday] was the game that we play.”
On Feb. 6, Temple fell to SMU. Senior guard Dalton Pepper said Dunphy told the Owls he knew they would win the second time around against the Mustangs. Dunphy called it a “lucky call.”
“I think Dalton tells stories out of school too much,” Dunphy said.
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.