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Temple crumbles in bubble-bursting loss to Houston

02/18/2018, 8:30pm EST
By Zach Drapkin

Fran Dunphy (above) was left scratching his head after Temple's 21-point loss to Houston on Sunday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)

What should have been an easy rebound for Quinton Rose was anything but.

The ball bounced directly to Rose’s hands, but the Owls’ sophomore couldn’t bring it in. It caromed off Rose’s fingertips and rolled toward the corner, where two teammates dove after it only to see the referee signal Houston ball.

That was the kind of Sunday afternoon it was for Temple.

The Owls had a prime opportunity to boost their March Madness resume against a high-quality opponent -- but just like that rebound rolled out of reach, their hopes of an at-large NCAA bid also slipped away against the Cougars.

Crumbling to bits in its biggest game of the season, Temple fell 80-59 to Houston, dropping to 7-8 in the American Athletic conference.

Temple, coming in at 15-11 overall and with multiple wins over top-25 opponents, needed a win to stay on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Instead, the Owls didn’t just lose -- they embarrassed themselves.

It took Temple six minutes just to score a point as the Owls fell into a 15-0 hole to start the game. The deficit never re-entered single digits for the rest of the evening, and Houston walked out completely unscathed.

“We came out really flat, we came out underestimating them, and they came out with guns blazing,” freshman Nate Pierre-Louis said. “I think that we really lost the game at the start of the game.”

That fumbled rebound from the first half was no outlier, either. Houston’s offensive rebound total was higher than Temple’s total rebound total for a large portion of the game, and the Cougars finished with a dominant 53-22 advantage on the glass. Big man Ernest Aflakpui finished without a rebound in 11 minutes and the Owls’ starting lineup combined for six total boards.

The Cougars, despite being one of the shortest teams in Division I, came in ranked No. 19 in Division I in rebounding margin, but this upped their average margin of +6.5 boards a game by a factor of five.

“We never let them breathe,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Our big deal against this team especially was we have to hold them to one shot, and at the other end we’re constantly chasing rebounds.”

“We were a step slow all game long,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy added. “The thing I always look at is the offensive rebounds. We had five for the game, they had 17. It seemed like every time they needed an offensive opportunity, we played a decent defensive set, they got an offensive rebound that reset it and just broke our back.”

Just about nothing else went right for Temple.

Temple couldn’t hit shots, finishing 22-of-61 (36.1 percent) from the field and 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Houston started off 5-for-6 from deep and had the lead out to 30 points with ten minutes to go.

Even the things Temple won, they lost.

Houston’s 17 turnovers were considerably more than the Owls’ 10 giveaways, but the Cougars still had two more points off turnovers.

If you’d said pregame that Temple would hold Rob Gray to seven points on 3-for-8 shooting, that would seem like a positive. But four different Houston scorers reached double-digits and the Cougars put up 80 points.

Corey Davis Jr. scored a game-high 20 points on six 3-pointers, just one less than Temple’s made treys for the contest.

No Temple player with multiple field goal attempts even made half their shots: Rose (6-for-14) and Pierre-Louis (3-for-7) each put up 13 points to lead the Owls while Shizz Alston Jr. shot just 3-for-13 for seven points.

“We didn’t do a very good job on either side of the coin today,” Dunphy said. “They played very well and we obviously didn’t play very well at all.”

Temple’s best hope now is to gear up for the AAC tournament. The Owls can secure an optimal seed with wins in their final three games, which will come against UCF, at UConn, and at Tulsa. Right now, they’re in seventh place in the conference, but with a strong finish, they could finish as high as fourth, which would secure a bye for the tournament’s first round.

Without a win against Wichita State or Houston in the past week, Dunphy knows what his team has to do the rest of the way.

“We thought this was going to be a very difficult week at Wichita State and against a very good Houston team and it certainly was,” he said. “We’ve got to win every game we play from here on out so that’s the only thing we can do.”

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