Mark Williams had an open look.
With time winding down in the second half, the senior forward got the ball from redshirt-senior swingman Daniel Dingle with no defenders in sight.
Williams fired away from behind the 3-point line, but couldn’t connect. Junior forward Obi Enechionyia got a hand on the rebound he couldn’t come down with.
Central Florida secured the board and made a free throw with three seconds left. Enechionyia’s three-quarter court heave was no good as the Owls lost to Central Florida 71-69 on Wednesday night in the Liacouras Center.
“We gave Dan the ball and told him to make a play,” sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. said. “He’s our leader. He’s our fifth-year senior and he made a good play, kicking it to Mark, another senior. The ball just didn’t go in. It was well executed and we wouldn’t have wanted the ball in two other people’s hands.”
Enechionyia, who scored all 17 of his points in the second half, twice gave his team the lead down the stretch. His dunk with 4:22 left put Temple (14-15, 5-11 American Athletic Conference) up by two. He made a corner three at the 1:27 mark to give Temple a 69-68 lead.
Central Florida sophomore guard B.J. Taylor hits a contested stepback jumper while he faded toward his bench to grab a one-point lead for the Knights. Enechionyia had another shot to put Temple back up, but he missed a pull-up jumper from a few feet inside the 3-point line after he pump faked and took a few dribbles.
“We lost this one, but the bright spot was Obi started hitting shots,” Alston said. “When he’s making shots, I think we’re unbeatable.”
“It felt good to finally get my shot back,” Enechionyia said. “But I wish it would have come with a win.”
After taking a nine-point halftime lead, Temple extended its advantage all the way up to 11 when Enechionyia hit one of his five second-half 3-pointers with 17:32 left in the game. The double-digit lead didn’t last long.
Taylor, who led all scorers with 19 points, hit a three, then Knights senior guard Matt Williams went on a personal 8-0 run to tie things at 39.
The Owls built their lead back up to seven with 10:09 left after freshman guard Quinton Rose converted an and-one. The Knights responded once again, retying the game at 61 with 4:40 to go.
“We weathered the storm,” Dunphy said. “We got ourselves another bit of a lead, and then we needed a stop here or there. We needed a better possession on the offensive end.”
In the teams’ first meeting on New Year’s Eve, the Owls scored just 11 points in the first half, shooting less than 14 percent from the field.
A dunk by sophomore forward Ernest Aflakpui with 10:40 to go in the first half pushed the Owls’ past that mark in Wednesday’s game.
Temple had five of its shots blocked by Central Florida’s 7-foot-6-inch center Tacko Fall, but the Owls shot 46.8 percent from the floor on Wednesday. Sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. scored 15 points. Williams and Rose were each had 11.
“There was no resemblance to how the first game went,” Dunphy said.
The two-point loss was Temple’s second heartbreaking defeat in as many days. The Owls lost to Connecticut 64-63 on Sunday. They’re now 0-5 in games this season decided by three or fewer points.
“I think we’re close,” Dunphy said. “We’re almost there. We’ve had so many close games. We just gotta figure out how to get over the hump.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue. Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews and @TTN_Sports.