In its final test last Saturday of a turnaround regular season, the men’s basketball team entered intermission trailing Connecticut by five points, and in danger of letting a crucial game slip away on its own floor.
Temple had just spotted 21 first-half points to the Huskies’ prolific senior guard, Ryan Boatright, and needed to reset the tone of the game early in its final 20-minute period.
“It was gut-check time,” Owls senior guard Will Cummings said of the halftime break. “We were down five going into the half. It’s really the first four minutes of the second half is really the game-changer of every game that you go into. That’s where you really see what type of game it’s going to be and you see where the momentum switches.”
In front of an attendance of 10,206 at the Liacouras Center, the most in the arena for a Temple game since a Big 5 loss to Villanova last season, the Owls double-teamed and, at times, triple-teamed Boatright for the better part of eight minutes to start the second half. The end result – Connecticut’s leading scorer managed four points and turned the ball over three times in the latter half en route to a 75-63 Temple victory.
“Everybody was saying, ‘It’s a big game,’” Cummings said. “We really wanted to come out and make a statement. Get back to playing our basketball, change our defensive principles and just play hard.”
Cummings posted team-highs of 23 points and five assists in the game. Along with his defense of Boatright to start the second half, Morgan hit three 3-pointers in the final period, including two through the last eight minutes to help the Owls pull away late, and finished with 17 points. Junior guard Quenton DeCosey continued a recent resurgence with a double-figure scoring performance for the third consecutive contest to go along with a team-high six rebounds.
In what the Owls dubbed a “team effort,” the win capped a regular-season schedule through which Temple finished at 22-9, a sharp contrast to a lost 9-22 campaign last season.
“We’ve had a really solid year,” Dunphy said. “I don’t know what people’s minds were like before the season started, and I can’t sit here and tell you I did the [wins and losses] by any stretch, but I thought we had a chance to be pretty good, and we still have a long way to go.”
After the Owls were destined for a first-round exit in the American Athletic Conference tournament by way of a 94-90 double-overtime defeat to South Florida at this time last year, Temple polished off its regular season this past weekend in a third-place tie with Cincinnati in the conference standings and in contention for an NCAA tournament bid.
“I knew that [Dunphy] wasn’t going to have two bad seasons in a row,” Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said. “Those guys always played hard and competed last year, but sometimes they just didn’t have the talent to complete games. You throw Morgan in there, you throw a couple other [new] players in there. … That’s what it takes. You need guys coming in the summer working on their game and getting better, and a fusion of some experienced players getting in there really helps.”
The team will enter this weekend’s conference tournament in Hartford, Connecticut with a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed, and will face No. 5-seeded Memphis in a quarterfinal. In the two teams’ lone regular season contest, the Owls knocked off the Tigers in a 61-60 overtime victory on the road.
“It’s a crazy ride,” Cummings said of his team’s season. “Just being here through the struggle of last year and seeing the hard work paid off that you put in in the offseason, it just makes this type of win [Saturday] more emotional and more grateful. We worked hard for this.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.204. 9537.