Temple Men’s Basketball (9-7, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated the University of South Florida (7-8, 0-2 The American) 68-64 on Wednesday night in Tampa, Florida. The win marked the first time since the 2014-15 season that the Owls have begun conference play with a 3-0 record.
Bulls’ sophomore guard Selton Miguel had an opportunity to tie the game with less than a minute remaining, but was blocked three consecutive times by redshirt sophomore guard Damian Dunn, sophomore forward Nick Jourdain and sophomore guard Hysier Miller after driving to the basket.
Dunn and redshirt sophomore guard Khalif Battle, Temple’s two highest scoring players this season, came off the bench for the second consecutive game but both checked in at the first media timeout. The duo finished as the Owls’ two highest scorers of the night with Dunn recording 19 points and Battle contributing15.
Despite turning the ball over in each of their first four possessions, the Owls were able to build an early lead with strong defense that forced the Bulls to shoot late into the shot clock. It took South Florida almost seven minutes to record their first field goal, with each of their first three points coming at the free throw line.
After back-and-forth play for most of the half, a stepback three-point shot and a contested driving layup from Miller helped Temple match their biggest lead of the half and enter halftime up 30-24.
As a team, the Owls shot a respectable 44 percent from the field in the first half, but made just two of their 11 three-point attempts with Battle and sophomore forward Zach Hicks, the Owls two best three-point shooters, shooting a combined 1-7 from beyond the arc.
After both teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the second half, a pair of free throws from Bulls’ junior center Russel Tchewa and a three-pointer from senior guard Serrel Smith Jr. helped South Florida jump out to their first lead since the seven-minute mark of the first half.
The Owls continued to feel the absence of sophomore forward Jamille Reynolds, who continues to miss time after undergoing surgery on his right thumb. Graduate student forward Kur Jongkuch and sophomore center Emmanuel Okpomo struggled to keep up with Tchewa down low, who finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Okpomo recorded four fouls, allowing Tchewa to take 11 shots at the free throw line.
Sophomore guard Jahlil White, who scored 10 or more points just once during out-of-conference play, has now exceeded that figure in all three conference games. If Temple wants to make any sort of run during the remainder of conference play and in the AAC tournament in March, White must continue to be a reliable scorer for the Owls down the stretch.
The Owls will look to keep the momentum going and remain unbeaten in conference play when they return home to host Tulane University (9-5, 1-1 The American) on Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. at The Liacouras Center.