An eight-point run gave Wichita State its largest lead at 12 points with four minutes, 38 seconds in Friday’s American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal game against Temple.
The Owls (17-15, 8-10 The American), however, made an eight-point run of their own and eventually cut their deficit to three with 2:23 left. Wichita State (25-6, 14-4 The American), the second-seeded team in The American’s tournament and No. 11 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, iced the game with 11 free throws in the final 2:12 to earn an 89-81 victory at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
“I loved how we were hanging each and every moment and got it back to three, I think, late and just needed another basket,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a postgame press conference. “We needed another stop. We just want to play another game, that’s all.”
Wichita State, which had a first-round bye by virtue of being one of the top four seeds in the conference, advances to The American’s semifinal round on Saturday. The Shockers will face the winner of the game between No. 3 Houston and No. 6 Central Florida. Houston is the No. 21 team in the AP poll.
Wichita State redshirt-sophomore guard Landry Shamet set a conference tournament record with five first-half 3-pointers. He scored 17 in the first half and finished with 24 points.
“I was just taking what was coming to me,” Shamet said in a postgame press conference. “I got a couple good looks early on and that’s my mindset every night, just take what comes to me, don’t force anything. And guys were getting me open looks, and I was just trying to step into them and knock them down.”
“They’re good players and Shamet got hot early and [redshirt-senior forward Shaquille Morris] was a beast down low, but we should have denied Shamet early so he couldn’t get that hot start,” junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. said in a postgame press conference. “But they’re good players, so it was tough to match up against them.”
Senior forward Rashard Kelly, who entered the game averaging 5.2 points per game, had an important contribution with 16 in 30 minutes.
Sports analytics site DRatings.com projected the Owls having a 22.1 percent chance to beat the Shockers. Temple had to win the conference tournament to have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. The Owls have now missed the NCAA Tournament in four of their past five seasons after making six straight from 2007-13.
Since joining The American for the 2013-14 season, the Owls haven’t won more than one game in any tournament. In the 2015 and 2016 tournaments, Temple had the benefit of having a first-round bye after finishing as one of the top four teams in the conference.
The Owls entered the day projected as a No. 6 seed in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament by DRatings.com. They will learn their postseason fate on Sunday. ESPNU will air an NIT selection show at 8:30 p.m.
“We would love to be in it,” Dunphy said. “So I think any time you can keep on playing, it’s a wonderful thing. These guys’ careers go so quick, you want to see them play as many games as possible.”
Sophomore guard Quinton Rose scored 20 second-half points and led all scorers with 25 points, which was just two short of his career high.
Redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown scored 15 points and led Temple with five rebounds in his 138th career game, which put him past former guard Lynn Greer II for the most in school history. Alston also had 15 points.
Freshman forward J.P. Moorman II played 27 minutes off the bench after leaving Thursday’s first-round game against Tulane with a knee injury late in the second half. Moorman scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds and had one assist and a steal before he fouled out.
A basket by senior forward Obi Enechionyia capped off Temple’s 8-0 run that made the score 76-72 with less than four minutes left in the second half.
That field-goal was Enechionyia’s lone make of the night. Four fouls limited him to 18 minutes.
Wichita State attempted 37 free throws, including 29 in the second half. Shockers sophomore guard Austin Reaves scored eight of his 13 points at the free-throw line.
Temple held Morris scoreless in the first half. Morris finished with 10 points, six of which came at the free-throw line. Morris combined to shoot 19-for-26 in the first two matchups between Wichita State and Temple.
Morris went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line with 1:05 left. He missed the second attempt, but Temple couldn’t secure the rebound. Instead, Reaves got the loose ball and called a timeout. Reaves got fouled shortly afterward and make both of his attempts to give the Shockers a nine-point lead.
After a season-high in free-throw attempts on Thursday, Temple continued its efforts to get to the paint. The Owls attempted 21 free throws and scored 28 points in the paint. In their last matchup against the Shockers on Feb. 15 in Kansas, they had eight points in the paint.