Temple men’s basketball rides strong first half to beat UConn

Temple led by 26 points at the half, its biggest halftime lead this season, en route to an 81-63 win against conference opponent Connecticut at the Liacouras Center on Wednesday.

Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. celebrates a second-half basket during Temple's 81-63 win against Connecticut on Feb. 6. | JUSTIN OAKES / THE TEMPLE NEWS

De’Vondre Perry dove to the floor for the loose ball, passed it to Shizz Alston Jr. who made a 3-point shot to give Temple University a 19-point lead midway through the first half.

Coach Fran Dunphy noted the sophomore forward assist to the senior guard as a key play in a strong first half for Temple’s men’s basketball team. Temple (17-6, 7-3 American Athletic Conference) recorded a season-high 46 first-half points, coasting to an 81-63 victory against conference rival Connecticut (13-10, 4-6 The American) on Wednesday.

The Owls made more than 65 percent of its shots in their first-half offensive explosion. Five Temple players finished the game with at least 10 points, including Shizz Alston, who recorded 18 points. Sophomore Nate Pierre-Louis was second on the team with 17 points.

Alston and Pierre-Louis each recorded two steals as the Owls scored 19 points off UConn’s 12 turnovers.

“It looks like you know what you’re doing when you make shots,” Dunphy said. “Everybody participated, there was some really good plays by everybody…We made those shots and it looked like it was our night.”

Junior guards Quinton Rose and Alani Moore II tallied 12 and 11 points, respectively.

UConn coach Dan Hurley said Temple made every contested shot, especially early in the game. The basket looked “huge” in the Owls’ eyes, Alston said.

Temple made 29 shots on 55 attempts while UConn shot 25-for-62 from the field. The Owls went 11-for-23 from beyond the arc as the Huskies managed just four 3-point makes.

Unlike previous games where the Owls allowed their opponents to come back despite holding a double-digit halftime lead, Temple’s advantage never dipped to below 16 points. The Owls held a season-high 28-point lead with 15 minutes, 5 seconds into the second half.

Dunphy tinkered with the starting lineup for the second game in a row, giving sophomore forward J.P. Moorman II the first start of his career. With senior center Ernest Aflakpui nursing a knee injury, sophomore forward Justyn Hamilton started at center.

Aflakpui could have played if Temple desperately needed him too, Dunphy said, but he opted to sit out Wednesday in hopes of playing Saturday’s game at Tulsa.

Hamilton totaled 13 points, two assists, and 25:18 minutes, all marking career-highs. Hamilton also added three rebounds, a block, and a steal.

“I am hoping that this was a sort of coming-out party for Justyn,” Dunphy said. “You could see how confident he was early in the game and it paid off.”  

In particular, Dunphy noted Hamilton’s reverse layup with 5:33 remaining in the first half. Hamilton made a fadeaway jump shot over UConn’ sophomore forward Josh Carlton in the first half, drawing a foul in the process.

The sophomore forward flashed his potential over the course of his career night, Dunphy said.

Hamilton’s performance, however, did not carry over in the rebounding margin. Without Aflakpui, the Owls lost the rebound battle 41-30 and surrendered 16 second-half offensive rebounds to UConn. Rose led the team with 9 total rebounds.

The Huskies scored 36 points in the paint thanks to their offensive rebounding totals. Allowing more than 30 points in the paint has spelled trouble for Temple this season, with Cincinnati, Penn, Houston and Central Florida –– four of the Owls’ six losses –– tallying 30 or more.

Four minutes into the game UConn’s leading scorer, senior guard Jalen Adams, left the game with an MCL sprain, Hurley said. His absence allowed Temple to pressure the Huskies’ ball handlers more in an effort to steal the ball. The Owls forced 10 UConn turnovers after Adams’ exit.

Carlton and junior guard Christian Vital led the Huskies in scoring with 18 points each. Senior forward Eric Cobb contributed 13 points with Adams unavailable.

Alston hopes Temple saved some of its offensive output for the Owls next game on Saturday against Tulsa (13-10, 3-7 The American) in Oklahoma on Saturday.

“I really like their team and like how they play,” Dunphy said. “[Senior guard DaQuan] Jeffries, it’s unbelievable how hybridish he is. He can play big, he can play small, just a tough guy. They got a good team and Frank [Haith] does a great job coaching, so it will be a great test for us.”

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