Temple can’t hang on in loss to USF

Temple Men’s Basketball held the lead for 33 minutes of the game, but the Owls scored just six points in the final five minutes of their 75-69 loss to South Florida Wednesday at home.

Matteo Picarelli scored 23 points as Temple falls to the University of South Florida 75-69. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Men’s Basketball was firing on all cylinders midway through the first half of its matchup with South Florida after guard Jahlil White hit a jumper that extended his team’s lead to eight.

Suddenly, the red-hot Owls went ice cold to end the half, finishing the final five minutes of the period without a field goal. The Bulls capitalized on the Owls’ slump by clawing their way back and went into halftime within striking distance. That proved to be the difference, and Temple dropped its fifth straight game.

Temple (8-12, 1-6 American Athletic Conference) lost to USF (12-5, 5-1 AAC) 75-69 Wednesday night at The Liacouras Center. The Owls held the lead for nearly 33 minutes of play but were outscored 14-6 in the final five minutes of the loss.

“I thought we guarded and defended well in the first half,” said Temple head coach Adam Fisher. “Our guys came out and really competed. We emphasized getting out to a good start. Give [USF] credit; game on the line, they made some big plays.”

The Owls played shorthanded, missing both forward Steve Settle III and guard Shane Dezonie from the starting lineup. Guard Matteo Picarelli took Dezonie’s place and earned a season-high 23 points after attempting just one shot against Rice on Jan. 20.

“It’s a mindset,” Picerelli said. “I just try to take what the defense gives me and try to help my team in any way possible.”

The Owls are no strangers to slow starts, but Wednesday seemed different. They pounced on the Bulls from the first whistle, opening up a nine-point lead after guard Jordan Riley made a layup about six minutes into the game. Temple’s defense stifled USF, helping force 15 turnovers and turned them into 18 points.

Temple’s defense held USF in check through most of the first half, and the Bulls only shot 35 percent from the field. The Owls shot 45 percent in the first half and maintained the lead going into halftime.

“We really emphasized getting off to a good start,”  Fisher said. “We have put ourselves in some holes in the first half.”

The roles quickly reversed in the second half. The Bulls continued to battle back and kept themselves in striking distance as time went on. Picarelli and guard Hysier Miller hit back-to-back threes in response, and the Owls stayed ahead of the Bulls with less than 10 minutes remaining.

It all unraveled from there. Temple could not recreate its first half success and shot a dismal 31 percent from the field. USF capitalized, shooting 65 percent while making six threes, and took the lead with four minutes left.

The Bulls never trailed again and were almost unstoppable shooting the ball, hitting nine of their last 10 shots. After hitting the dagger in their previous matchup, forward Kasean Pryor did it again, drilling a three with 26 seconds on the clock to seal the Owls’ fate.

After five straight losses, the Owls will look to bounce back when they travel to play East Carolina (9-10, 2-4 AAC) in Greenville, North Carolina on Jan. 28 at 5 p.m.

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