Temple University men’s basketball will enter The American Athletic Conference Tournament with its longest losing streak of the season.
Temple (14-17, 6-12 The AAC), the 10th seed in the tournament, will play 7th seeded Southern Methodist (19-11, 9-9 The AAC) in the first round of the tournament on Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Owls will enter the tournament with five consecutive losses to East Carolina, Wichita State, South Florida, Tulsa and Cincinnati. The Owls’ last win came on Feb. 20 against Connecticut.
During the five-game losing streak, the Owls shot 36.46 percent from the field and 31.78 percent from the three-point line. The Owls have only shot above their season-average percent from the field and the three-point line in two of its losses.
The Owls also struggled to convert from the free-throw line during their losing streak. They made 65.93 percent of their free throws during the losing streak. In three of those games, the Owls made below 70 percent of their free throws. In the Owls’ losses against East Carolina and Wichita State, their number of missed free throws was greater than the number of points they lost by.
Coach Aaron McKie said after the Tulsa game his team’s recent offensive struggles affected how it plays defensively. In their 61-51 loss to Tulsa on March 4, the Owls shot 29.8 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc.
“A lot of that comes from the offensive side of the floor,” McKie said on March 4. “We shouldn’t think like that. We gotta reverse our thought process. When the ball is not going into the hole for us on the offensive side, we lose our focus on the defensive side.”
The Owls will face the Mustangs, which slipped to seventh in the conference after losing five of their last six games and three in a row to end the season.
Temple and SMU split the season series. The two teams first met on Jan. 18 in Dallas with SMU earning a 68-52 win. The Owls avenged the loss with a 97-90 overtime win against the Mustangs on Feb. 8 at the Liacouras Center.
The Mustangs lead the conference in scoring with 72.9 points per game. The Mustangs have four players who average 11 points or more. Junior guard Tyson Jolly leads the Mustangs with 14.5 points per game. He is third on the team with 6.2 rebounds per game.
Sophomore guard Kendric Davis is second on the team in points, averaging 14.2 per game. He also leads the conference with 6.7 assists per game. Junior forward Isiaha Mike and sophomore forward Feron Hunt scored 14.0 and 11.0 points per game, respectively. They also lead the Mustangs with more than six rebounds per game.
“They’re a really good offensive team, one of the better offensive teams in the country,” McKie said on Feb. 8. “They shoot the ball well. They got a really, really good point guard who sets the table for those guys and he’s very cerebral in figuring out different ways to get those shooters the ball.”
If Temple beats SMU, it will advance to play 2nd-seeded Houston (23-8, 13-5 The AAC) in the second round at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The Cougars are fourth in the conference in scoring with 72.3 points per game. The Cougars have allowed 62.1 points per game, which is first in the conference.
Temple lost 78-74 to Houston on Jan. 7 at the Liacouras Center in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Redshirt-freshman guard Caleb Mills leads the Cougars in scoring with 13.3 points per game. Mills scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field against the Owls.
The Cougars’ next highest scorers are sophomore guards Quentin Grimes and Nate Hinton, who both average more than 10 points per game. Hinton is fourth in the conference in rebounds with 8.7 per game.
Temple’s only chance to make the NCAA Tournament is to win four games in the four days of the conference tournament.
Despite the team’s recent struggles, McKie is confident Temple can be successful in the conference tournament.
“That’s the beauty of being able to play in your conference championship because you get another opportunity,” McKie said. “All of the games have been close and teams have been beating up on one another, so we get another opportunity. You wanna be playing your best basketball, which we are not at this particular point, but you can build some momentum.”