Temple heads to semifinals after win against Charlotte

Temple Men’s Basketball stays alive in the AAC Tournament by overcoming its first-half struggles to beat Charlotte 58-54 Friday night.

Temple was all smiles following their third conference tournament win against the Charlotte 49ers. The Owls advance to the conference semifinals against Florida Atlantic. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After having its best game of the season, Temple Men’s Basketball entered the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals against third-seeded Charlotte looking to build off that momentum. However, that did not happen — at least initially.

The Owls came out slow in the first half, but the second half was a completely different story. Temple came out firing on all cylinders, shooting 50 percent in the second half and holding Charlotte to a measly 35 percent, including 3-18 from three.

Temple is now the lowest seed in the history of the AAC Tournament to reach the semifinals, and the Owls remain hopeful of their first postseason title as a member of the conference.

Temple (15-19, 8-13 AAC) beat Charlotte (19-12, 13-6 AAC) 58-54 on Friday night at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The Owls are one of the last four teams remaining in the tournament, and they’ll face Florida Atlantic Saturday at 5 p.m.

“Temple tough,” said Temple head coach Adam Fisher. “You’d hear about the great Coach [John] Chaney teams, Coach [Fran] Dunphy, Coach [Aaron] McKie teams. They’d always talk about [Temple TUFF]. It’s something that we needed to establish as our identity. Temple TUFF is when you score 18 points, but you guard and only allow 22. You’re rebounding, being physical, guarding without fouling and you’re the first team on the floor. That’s [Temple] TUFF. And that’s the element we’re trying to bring.”

Forward Steve Settle III led the Owls Friday, finishing with 14 points and six rebounds, and guards Hysier Miller and Jordan Riley both finished with 11 points. The Owls had a season-low six turnovers against the 49ers, which helped them control the pace and remain on top after taking the lead midway through the second half. 

Temple Men’s Basketball is the lowest seeded team to reach the semifinals in American Athletic Conference Tournament history. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After the Owls had their best offensive performance this season against SMU on March 14, they followed up with one of their worst halves against Charlotte. Temple scored just 18 points, its lowest total in a half this season. The Owls shot an abysmal 19 percent from the field and made only one of their nine three-pointer attempts. 

Charlotte broke out to an early 10-2 lead because of Temple’s first half. However, neither team could get anything going offensively after that. While Temple wasn’t great in the first half, the 49ers weren’t much better. Charlotte shot just 29 percent from the field and 2-12 from three-point range.

The Owls slowly closed the 49ers’ lead throughout the rest of the first half. Settle led the charge, scoring six points in the first half and helping Temple cut Charlotte’s lead to just four points at the half.

Temple came out of the locker room on fire offensively, opening the second half on a 14-5 run. Riley had seven of those 14 points and helped the Owls take their first lead of the game. Riley’s second-half efforts won him the Owls Temple toughness award, an achievement the team gives out every game for the toughest player.

“[Riley] was awesome,” Fisher said. “It was his rebounding, his toughness and the way he responded. All our coaches talked to him at halftime, and gave him that ‘Hey we need you.’ And man he stepped up right from the start. He delivered and that’s what big-time players do.”

The team dominated from there by controlling the pace of play. Anytime the 49ers started to close the gap, the Owls had an answer and outscored the 49ers by eight points in the frame.  

Temple has advanced to the semifinals and will face second-seed FAU (25-7, 14-4 AAC) on March 16 at 5 p.m. The Owls’ magic number drops to two games left to claim an AAC title.

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