On the road against the No.1 team in the country, Temple Men’s Basketball upset Houston 56-55. One day after the late John Chaney’s 91st birthday, Temple defeated the nation’s top-ranked team for the first time since Chaney’s Owls did it on the road against fellow Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati team on Feb. 20, 2000.
The Owls were No. 15 during the matchup more than two decades ago and the game was a rematch of the second round of the previous year’s NCAA Tournament, a game the Owls won.
This time around, Temple entered the game unranked with an 11-9 record, including 5-2 in conference play. The Owls limited the Cougars (18-2, 6-1 American Athletic Conference), who rank second in the AAC in field goal percentage, to nearly 34 percent from the field en route to the improbable win.
However, Houston beat itself more than anything. The Cougars held the Owls to 31.1 percent shooting from the field, had six more steals, scored 10 more second-chance points and grabbed six more rebounds. Houston also missing 10 of their 21 free throws put the final nail in the Cougars’ coffin.
Knocking off the best team in the country, regardless of how bad it played, is an accomplishment, yet, this one doesn’t seem as exciting as it should be.
“We feel like this is one of the best teams that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” said redshirt-sophomore guard Damian Dunn on Oct. 4. “If we don’t get to the tournament, all our work is wasted.”
Temple went 6-7 in non-conference play this year. The first win was against Villanova, a team that needs to win the Big East’s automatic bid to advance to March Madness. The Wildcats were without their best player, freshman guard Cam Whitmore, and their best defender, senior wing Justin Moore.
The second came against a Rutgers (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) team that was without senior guards Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell in a neutral site game.
Rounding out the non-conference slate were City 6 wins La Salle (8-11, 2-4 Atlantic 10), Saint Joseph’s (9-10, 3-4 Atlantic 10) and Drexel (12-8, 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association), three teams that won’t sniff an at-large bid, and Virginia Commonwealth (15-5, 6-1 Atlantic 10).
Temple’s losses are what makes the unimpressive wins more futile. The Owls blew a 15-point lead to Wagner in their season opener (11-7, 4-3 Northeast Conference), a team from a one-bid conference. The following week, Temple lost at home after allowing Vanderbilt junior forward Myles Stute to single-handedly beat them with his seven three-pointers.
Also on the Owls’ resume is an 0-2 performance at the Empire Classic, a 20-point loss at Penn (9-11, 2-4 Ivy League) with a chance to win the Big 5 outright for the first time in 12 years, a loss at Mississippi (9-10, 1-6 SEC) one game before the Rebels lost to North Alabama (11-10, 3-5 Atlantic Sun), and a buy game loss at home to Maryland Eastern Shore (10-8, 3-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) of another one-bid conference.
In layman’s terms, the Owls most likely aren’t going dancing, regardless of how they perform for the remainder of the regular season, unless they win the AAC Tournament and, by default, the AAC’s automatic bid. Because of the challenging path to March, upsetting the Cougars in Houston doesn’t hold as much meaning as it could’ve if Temple won at least three more non-conference games.
On the bright side, the win does make Temple a possible contender for a spot in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament.
But Temple cannot afford to worry about that. The Owls should celebrate achieving something they haven’t done in 23 years and use that to spark momentum for the rest of the season. The Owls have won six of its first eight conference games and hold sole possession of second place in the AAC with 10 games remaining.
Temple’s best-case scenario is to finish top five in the conference to earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and avoid playing Houston until the conference championship — which they have to qualify for — or hope someone else knocks the Cougars off by then. Of course, the best way to ensure that is for Temple to retain the second seed throughout the season.
Temple now feels that it can beat Houston, the AAC’s most successful postseason team of the past half decade, if they meet again in March. The Owls will have a sophomore center Jamille Reynolds back in the lineup for both a hypothetical March meeting and Sunday’s rematch on Feb. 5 at The Liacouras Center.
Essentially, a team that looked dead in the water around Christmas time is alive again. Maybe not for an at-large bid, but there’s still hope for a conference championship.
The Owls will take on the University of South Florida (9-11, 2-5 The American) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Liacouras Center. The Owls should secure a victory over the Bulls, but given Temple’s up-and-down season thus far, no result is off the table.