FORT WORTH, Texas – Temple Men’s Basketball (16-16, 10-9 The American Athletic Conference) lost to Cincinnati (21-11, 12-7 The American) 84-54 in the second round of the AAC tournament on Thursday afternoon at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. In the most important game of the season, the Owls came out flat on both sides of the floor against a team they beat in three of their previous four meetings.
After being labeled ‘tournament or bust’ by guard Damian Dunn before the season, the Owls are now officially eliminated from NCAA tournament contention for the fourth consecutive year.
“I wanna play in March,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “We had every opportunity during the course of the year to do something and we didn’t take advantage of it. We had another opportunity today to extend the season and we didn’t do so.”
In the early stages of the first half, Temple prioritized getting the ball to Dunn, who scored both of the Owls’ first two buckets, including a three-point shot, that put them on the board first. A pair of threes from forward Zach Hicks and another from guard Hyiser Miller helped spark a 16-6 run to open the game.
Cincinnati quickly got back into the game following a 14-4 run that tied the game, with nine points coming from guard Dan Skillings Jr, a Philadelphia native the Owls missed out on after heavily recruiting him in high school. A transition three from Bearcats’ guard Jeremiah Davenport and mid-range jumper from guard Mika Adams-Woods put Cincinnati ahead by five with nearly seven minutes remaining in the opening half.
After scoring efficiently in the first half of the period, Temple fell into a scoring rut for the rest of the game, and hit just one of 11 field goal attempts to close the first half, shooting only 31 percent. More threes from Adams-Woods and guard Landers Nolley II sent the Bearcats into halftime up 10.
Guard Jahlil White and forward Nick Jourdain went a combined 0-10 in the half while Cincinnati shot more than 44 percent from the field.
“Everybody tried to win it on their own,” McKie said. “We didn’t get the ball moving the way I wanted it to move. I thought for the last couple weeks we’ve been doing a really good job of moving the ball, moving bodies, screening and all those things. We got comfortable and we got away from that.”
In the second half, Temple continued to get outworked, struggling to knock down easy looks while getting overmatched in the low post. Jourdain and forward Kur Jongkuch were non-factors, making only one of their combined six field goal attempts. The duo also recorded just five total rebounds.
Temple, who failed to find a solution to their turnover issues all season, gave the ball away 15 times in the contest, with many coming at inopportune times.
After falling behind by 20, Temple cut Cincinnati’s lead to just 12 points with less than nine minutes remaining, but seven threes and a near 50 percent shooting performance in the second half helped the Bearcats’ lead by as much as 31.
“We just didn’t make shots,” McKie said. “We started to hang our heads, a huge part of basketball is putting the ball in the hole and we wasn’t making shots and looked like we started to get a step slower.”
Temple is now 0-4 in the American Athletic Conference tournament during McKie’s tenure, and 3-8 in the tournament since joining the conference prior to the 2013-14 season.
Temple will need to go back to the drawing board to address a long list of unanswered questions this offseason, including McKie’s future with the team as he enters the final season of his contract.
“I wanna continue to grow these kids and help this program as best I can,” McKie said. “I don’t lose sleep over that.”