The Liacouras Center was the loudest it has been all season when Quinton Rose dunked over a Central Florida defender. And it was the fullest it has been for coach Fran Dunphy’s final regular season home game.
The junior guard’s dunk gave Temple (23-8, 13-5 American Athletic Conference) a 2-point lead with four minutes, 13 seconds left in the Owls regular-season finale against conference rival UCF.
Temple never gave up that lead and later defeated UCF, 67-62, on Saturday for Senior Day at the Liacouras Center. The Owls win against UCF (23-7, 13-5 The American) puts Temple in position to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since the 2015-16 season.
The Knights were ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Poll entering Saturday.
The Liacouras Center held a season-high 9,951 people in attendance and created the best atmosphere Alston has seen during his career at Temple, he said.
The crowd was consistently engaged during Sunday’s important matchup between Temple and UCF. Saturday was a quality opportunity for the Owls to build its NCAA tournament resume, and the crowd propelled Temple to take advantage of that opportunity, Alston added.
Alston, Dunphy, and senior center Ernest Aflakpui were all honored prior to the game.
Dunphy said he was emotional during the ceremony, as he greeted Alston and Aflakpui on center court.
In Dunphy’s last regular season game at the Liacouras Center, Temple was able to send him out as a winner. With a win against the Knights, the Owls were able to add another Quadrant 1 win against a ranked opponent toward their NCAA Tournament resume, which is their second win over a ranked opponent this season.
Temple will most likely play in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament as the No. 3 seed on Friday. The Owls’ game time and opponent will be determined by late Saturday night. The Owls had already clinched a first-round bye with a road win against UConn on Thursday.
Temple fans began celebrating the win when Shizz Alston Jr. hit a jump shot with 1:18 left to give the Owls an 8-point lead, its largest of the game. The senior guard finished with 21 points.
“[Dunphy] doesn’t ever really tell me to have fun,” Alston said. “But before the game today, he said, ‘Have fun out there.’ It’s my last game, last time at the Liacouras Center, so I had to have a little fun.”
Rose’s dunk came after the junior guard struggled to score majority of the game. Before Rose made a 3-point shot with 8:41 left, he had just two points.
Rose scored nine points in the final 8:41 to help the Owls clinch its 23rd victory of the season.
“[Rose] is such a talented guy sometimes he gets in his own way,” Dunphy said. “He just kind of hung in there. That [3-point shot] was huge and the dunk was great. … I was very impressed on how he hung in there.”
Sophomore forward Justyn Hamilton came off the bench tying a career-high 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Sophomore forward J.P. Moormann III added 10 points and three steals. Both he and Aflakpui led the Owls with five rebounds each.
The Owls limited UCF senior center Tacko Fall’s production. In 20 minutes, Fall recorded two points, four fouls, five rebounds and three turnovers. Fall was in foul trouble for most of the game, picking up his fourth foul with 7:55 left in the game.
“If we got [Fall] out of the game it would be easier for us to win,” Alston said. “[Aflakpui] was battling down there hitting him on every play. And we felt that he would make an imprint and get some cheap easy fouls [on Fall].”
Temple capitalized when Fall, UCF’s 7-foot-6 center and leading shot blocker, was sitting on the bench.
The Knights jumped out to a 15-7 lead before Fall picked up his first foul five minutes into the game. Fall was subbed out after, and Temple immediately went on a 7-0 run.
UCF redshirt senior guard B.J. Taylor also struggled, scoring eight points compared to his 16.5 point per game average. Temple sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis guarded Taylor for a large portion of Saturday’s game.
Pierre-Louis took just four shots, but had seven points. His defense on Taylor was crucial in the Owls win, Dunphy said.
“I’ll be anxious to see the film to see exactly what [Pierre-Louis] did but, he was terrific,” Dunphy added. “Sometimes I accuse him of having more sizzle than substance, but today he had both.”
Aubrey Dawkins stepped up for the Knights making 12-of-23 shots to record a game-high 36 points. Dawkins was the only UCF players to score double digit points.
Alston believes Temple can make a postseason run when it plays its first conference tournament game on Friday after its first-round bye.
“We have luck on our side right now,” Alston said.