Aaric Murray’s homecoming was a record-setting one.
In the graduate center’s first game in Philadelphia since transferring from La Salle in 2011, he scored 48 points – the most ever scored in a single game in the Liacouras Center and the most ever by a Temple opponent, leading the Tigers (4-7, 0-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) to a 90-89 victory over the Owls (4-5, 0-0 American Athletic Conference). The Glen Mills High school graduate did it on 20-of-28 shooting, adding eight rebounds, a team high.
“I was just feeling good,” Murray said. “I just wanted to play well and play hard and get the win with my team.”
“He’s made some great strides,” coach Mike Davis said. “I think he’s one of the best, if not the best, big man in the country. Everybody we play this year, they triple him, quadruple him, double him. Even though he’s been tripled and the whole team has been guarding him, he’s still able to average 20-something points a game.”
Temple was down by 14 with 14:34 to go in the game, but came back to lead by a point before losing the lead in the last 14 seconds.
“You don’t ever want to quit, and I don’t think there’s any quit in these guys,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “They think they can come back and win every game. We’ve got to do a better job to put ourselves in a position that when we go on a run, we’re going to be up 10 and not equal or down a few points.”
Sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey led the Owls with 19 points – a career high. Redshirt-senior guard Dalton Pepper added 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and redshirt-junior forward Anthony Lee had 18 points and seven rebounds.
“I think he’s maturing,” Dunphy said of DeCosey. “I think he’s understanding how good a player he needs to be on the other end. He had a couple of missteps defensively, but obviously when he shoots 8-for-9 – neither one were defending, neither team was defending very well – he did a good job.”
Murray’s 48 points are a Division I-high by a player in a single game so far this season. Temple didn’t double-team Murray much. With a few exceptions, he was being single-covered by Lee.
“They went to him every time, so I had to try to contain him,” Lee said. “Obviously I didn’t do a good job. I don’t put that on anybody else. They looked for him every time, so he had a lot of opportunities to go right at me.”
“I wasn’t surprised because Lee and those guys are really big and physical,” Davis said. “They’re not a double-team team. This is the first game he hasn’t seen three or four people collapse – not when he catches it, but when the ball’s in the air they all come. It tells you, for a guy [who’s] averaging 22 points a game and getting that kind of attention.”
Texas Southern won the opening tip. Murray keyed the Tigers early on, scoring six points early to lead Texas Southern to a 13-6 lead at the first media timeout.
The Owls went on a 9-3 run to pull within one point. After junior forward Jose Rodriguez made one of two from the free throw line, the teams went back and forth, with two-point baskets scored on the next six possessions, putting the score at 23-21 Tigers with 10:01 to go in the first half.
After two Texas Southern baskets, sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey got a layup off a spin move to keep the Owls within four. Temple was able to pull within one at one point, but could not tie the game until the 2:14 minute mark, when redshirt-senior guard Dalton Pepper hit a three to make the score 40-40. Texas Southern subsequently hits a free throw to pull ahead, and on the next possession got a layup.
After two Murray free throws with seven seconds to go, Pepper hits a jumper to beat the buzzer, making the score 45-42 Texas Southern at halftime. Murray led all scorers with 21 points at the break, while DeCosey led Temple with 11.
Murray scored on Texas Southern’s first two possessions to start the second half, getting two more baskets on ensuing possessions. After Murray took a break, graduate forward Aaron Clayborn scored five straight points to give the Tigers a 58-46 lead going into the first media timeout of the second half.
DeCosey hit a three coming out of the timeout, but senior forward D’Angelo Scott hit one on the ensuing possession to regain the double-digit lead. From there, Temple prevented the lead from getting much bigger and was able to pull within nine with 10:38 to go.
Murray then hit two three-pointers. On the first, he broke the record for most points by an opposing player in the Liacouras Center. On the second, he broke the record for points against Temple in any building. Despite that, Temple pulled to within six with 7:54 to go.
DeCosey hit a three with 4:37 to go, bringing the score to 78-74 Texas Southern. After a Tigers timeout, Murray missed a three and Cummings did the same on the other end. Murray hit a layup while getting fouled to tie Lynn Greer’s record for most points by a player in a single game in the Liacouras Center. He broke it with the free throw, putting Texas Southern up 81-74. Sophomore forward Daniel Dingle made a layup on the other end. DeCosey subsequently blocked a shot, leading to Dingle going to the line and hitting both, making the score 81-78 Tigers with 2:19 to go.
After a scramble for the ball, Scott hit an open layup on the other end and Cummings responded with a jumper to make the score 83-80 Texas Southern. Pepper then stole the ball and dunked it to pull the Owls within one. Murray hit a layup while getting fouled, but missed the free throw. On the other end, Scott stole the ball and got fouled by Pepper, giving the Tigers a one-and-one with 47.7 seconds left. He made the first and missed the second and Murray got the rebound and the layup, giving Texas Southern an 88-82 lead. Cummings hit a quick three with 36.3 seconds to go, pulling Temple back within a score.
After Texas Southern missed a one-and-one free throw, Temple drove down the court. Dingle hit a layup while getting fouled to pull within one. He missed the free throw, but Lee got the rebound and was fouled. Lee hit both free throws, giving Temple its first lead of the game. On the other end, senior guard Ray Penn missed a shot, and Dingle committed a foul, sending junior guard Madarious Gibbs to the free throw line. Gibbs hit both shots, and Temple could not hit a shot to win the game.
“It was very impressive, obviously,” Dunphy said of Murray’s preformance. “It wasn’t much fun to watch, but he was terrific. As difficult as he was to guard inside, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that, the two threes that he made in the second half hurt us too.”
“Coach told me before the game ‘Don’t be nervous. Just play [your] game and let it come,'” Murray said. “That’s what I did, and it turned out like this.”
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.