Gameday Preview: Temple Ramps Up for Matchup Against No. 1 Houston

Written by: Jake Gabel

Photo by: Andrew Mayo

The last time Temple men’s basketball beat the No. 1 team in the nation was February 20, 2000, when No. 15 Temple knocked off No. 1 Cincinnati 77-69. Mark Karcher led the game with 28 points for John Chaney’s Owls, and they held the Bearcats’ Kenyon Martin, the future number one overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft, to 13 points. 

Nearly 23 years later, Temple has a shot at their third win in program history against the No. 1 team in the country. 

Houston is 18-1 (6-0 American Athletic Conference) this season. Temple is 11-9 on the season, but has excelled in conference play so far, as they are tied for second in the AAC at 5-2. 

Houston and Temple faced off twice last season. While the Owls lost both games, they were very different stories. When Houston came to Philadelphia, the Owls nearly beat them, falling 66-61. The second time around was not so close, however, as the Owls lost 84-46 in Houston. 

Temple is hoping their trip to Houston this year is a much different story. After their practice Friday morning, head coach Aaron McKie talked about the differences between this year’s Cougars squad compared to last year’s. 

“They’ve got the Player of the Year candidate back in [Marcus] Sasser,” McKie said. “He adds some firepower to their lineup. He’s one of the better guards in the country; so you add him, and they got a freshman forward that’s pretty good, Jarace Walker. So they’re loaded. They’re stacked.”

Sasser, the leading scorer for the Cougars at 16.9 points per game, did not play against Temple last year after suffering a season-ending toe injury in December 2021. Sasser was just added to the Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List, an award given to the National Player of the Year.

Freshman Jarace Walker has been a great addition as well. The 6’8”, 240 pound forward is averaging 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. 

“They’re a physical team,” graduate forward Kur Jongkuch said, “so we got to go hit them because if we don’t they’re going to hit us and probably lose by a lot. So that’s our mindset, just turn it into a rock fight just like they will.” 

Houston also boasts the number one defense in the nation, allowing just 53.3 points a game. They also have the best average margin of victory winning at 22.9 points per game this season. 

“They’re real scrappy,” Temple guard and second-leading scorer Damian Dunn said. “They’re physical, and they fly around at you on both ends of the floor. They move the ball well on the weak sides, they get their shooters shots, they get their playmakers in positions to make plays.” 

Because of Houston’s talent, Dunn believes Temple needs to focus on key areas to eliminate the best parts of Houston’s team.

“For us, we just have to do our best to take away some of their actions and their scorers and playmakers, and I think we’ll be fine,” he said. 

Despite getting ready to take on the number one team in the nation, McKie shot down the idea of treating this game any differently. 

“Nah, you can’t do that to yourself because it will be an emotional rollercoaster throughout the season,” McKie said. “Every practice, every game should mean the same to you, and you should approach it as such. So, it’s been our mindset from day one, and that’s the way we’ll keep it.”

Temple will be taking on Houston on a national stage Sunday on ESPN. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. The last time Temple faced a ranked opponent was at the beginning of this season when the Owls upset No. 16 Villanova, and the fans stormed the court at the Liacouras Center (twice).

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