SUNRISE, Fla. – Halftime breaks can provide much needed relief to a team struggling to find its shot, fix its defense or simply regain momentum.
But the break can also come at an inopportune time, as it did for Temple Saturday, cutting short a critical run.
The Owls headed into halftime just three points behind Florida, but could not draw any closer once play resumed, falling to the Gators, 86-69, in the second game of the Orange Bowl Classic, held at the Bank Atlantic Center.
Behind Dionte Christmas, who tied a season-high with 32 points, the Owls (6-6) closed the first half on a 9-2 run, in which the junior guard scored seven points to pull Temple within 37-33 at halftime.
Within a minute of the second stanza, however, the Gators (12-2) had regained an eight-point edge, at 44-36, and needed only a few more minutes to permanently take a double-digit lead.
“We lost focus in our mission in what we did in the second half,” said point guard Luis Guzman, who committed two quick fouls in the half and later fouled out. “We got a couple of bad calls, but I think they had a plan and still would have been victorious at the end.”
The Gators shot 60.8 percent from the field and had five players reach double-digit scoring. Marreese Speights topped the Gators with 20 points. Jonathan Mitchell scored 15, Nick Calathes added 14, and Walter Hodge and Chandler Parsons each scored 12.
“When they come out and hit all the shots that they did – they didn’t really miss too many shots – it’s going to be tough to beat a team like that,” Christmas said. “…I think we broke down a lot defensively, which we have to get better at, but it’s going to be tough to beat a team like that.”
The Owls shot well, finishing the game with a 47.2 percent clip, but Christmas was the only Temple player to reach double-digit scoring.
Christmas shot 11-of-17 from the field, making 4-of-9 attempted three-pointers, and fell two points shy of breaking the Orange Bowl Classic record for points scored, set by Florida’s Matt Walsh, who scored 33 points against Miami in 2002.
Christmas’ performance left an impression on Florida coach Billy Donovan.
“That kid gave his heart and soul,” Donovan said.
Still, Christmas said he would have taken a two-point performance if it meant the Owls won.
“Scoring 32 points against the defending champs doesn’t mean anything if you don’t come out with a win,” Christmas said.
Temple kept pace with the Gators in the early going, trailing 13-12 after Christmas completed a layup with 13:46 left in the first half, but they wouldn’t score again until Christmas made another layup five minutes later. By that point, the Gators had taken a 22-14 lead.
The Owls kept the Gators in check for next five minutes, never trailing by more than 11, but never cut within eight points of the lead. Then with 3:33 left in the half, Christmas fueled a 9-2 run to send the Owls into halftime behind by just 37-33.
The Owls actually shot better in the second half than they did in the first – 52.2 percent compared to 43.3 percent. But the Gators were hotter, shooting 63 percent in the second frame, and the Owls couldn’t get any stops while trying both man and zone defenses. They even employed a press.
“You’re hoping that they all don’t get into a rhythm,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “They all can play; they’re all really good basketball players. I don’t think you can say to yourself, ‘We’ll stop one part of their offense.’ They’re a real good basketball team.
“Again, with a team that talented, once they start getting it going on … we couldn’t stop them in the second half.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.