Temple stuns No. 1 ranked Houston

Temple Men’s Basketball defeated No. 1 ranked Houston 56-55 on Sunday afternoon for their first victory against a top ranked team since 2000.

Redshirt sophomore Damian Dunn scored a game-high 16 points in Temple's Sunday afternoon victory against No. 1 Houston. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Updated at 6:07 p.m.

Temple Men’s Basketball (12-9, 6-2 American Athletic Conference) defeated the Cougars (18-2, 6-1 The American) 56-55 on Sunday afternoon in Houston, Texas. After unexpectedly losing to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Wagner College earlier in the season, the Owls have redeemed themselves in the best way possible, knocking off college basketball’s top-ranked team for the third time in program history.

It was the first time Temple defeated the nation’s top ranked team since Feb. 20, 2000 when they took down Cincinnati 77-69.

“It was a cold celebration for me cause the guys threw a lot of cold water on me,” said head coach Aaron McKie. “It’s always fun to see guys so excited and enjoying this game of basketball.”

Temple knew if they wanted to have any chance at knocking off Houston, they would have to play nearly perfect basketball for a complete 40 minutes and that is exactly what they did.

The Owls kept up with the Cougars for the entire contest, trading baskets and going blow-for-blow with a team that had only lost five times at home in their last 70 games.

Houston had an opportunity to take the lead in the final seconds when junior guard Jamal Shead had a strong look at the rim, but graduate student forward Kur Jongkuch made back-to-back blocks to keep Temple in front.

“My heart was pounding,” McKie said. “We lost one like that to Memphis where it was almost identical but luck went our way on this one. They ran a really good play, got a good look at it and missed it and we won the game.”

Houston struggled to convert on their chances early in the game, making just six of their first 21 shots from the floor. Jongkuch and sophomore center Emmanuel Okpomo both successfully locked down the paint, forcing Houston to take uncomfortable shots they could not convert.

A pair of late half threes from redshirt sophomore guard Damian Dunn and sophomore forward Zach Hicks put the Owls up six, giving them their largest lead of the afternoon. Shortly after, a pair of driving layups from Shead and freshman forward Jarace Walker helped put the Cougars ahead for the first time in just more than 10 minutes. 

Each time it looked like the Cougars were generating a run to pull away, Temple responded. Dunn and redshirt sophomore guard Khalif Battle, who both continue to come off the bench and enter the game following the first media timeout, both hit three-point shots late in the first half while the Owls were trailing.

Dunn’s three pushed the game into halftime at a 30-30 tie, and for the first time since their 50-44 loss to Villanova University in the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA tournament, Houston failed to enter halftime with a lead.

In the second half, Temple was able to get to the free throw line consistently. The Owls converted on 20 of their 22 free throws, drawing fouls on multiple must-score possessions. Houston knocked down just 52 percent of their shots from the line.

“We knew those guys were in foul trouble,” McKie said. “We were just trying to find ways to put the guys that were in foul trouble in those sorts of situations and we were getting to the free throw line so that helps. It didn’t go as planned, but we pulled the win out so I’m happy about that.”

Although their chances of making the NCAA tournament through an at-large bid are likely still improbable, Temple proved they can compete with the nation’s top teams when they are at their best. If the Owls want to make their first March Madness appearance since the 2018-19 season, they likely must take down Houston again in the conference tournament.

The Owls will look to continue to ride the momentum when they return home to take on the University of South Florida (9-11, 2-5 The American) on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

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