WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
ORLANDO– Temple’s postseason fate will once again be determined by the grace of the NCAA selection committee on Sunday, as No. 5 Connecticut defeated the No. 1 Owls, 77-62 in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
Connecticut guard Daniel Hamilton and forward Shonn Miller stole the show in Orlando, finishing with 19 points apiece with a combined 16 rebounds to snub Temple of a championship game ticket for the second consecutive season.
“We stayed mentally tough,” said Hamilton, who scored 32 points in Friday’s thrilling quadruple overtime victory against Cincinnati. “We got shots, scores when we needed to, stayed together and got the win.”
The first half began with a strong push from the Owls, who led 12-4 in credit to five early Connecticut turnovers, but the Huskies quickly found a groove, surging for a 19-4 run midway through, leading 23-16 at the eight-minute mark.
Connecticut would continue to set the tempo, taking advantage of Temple’s deficiencies on both ends of the floor, finishing the half shooting 55-percent, up 39-28 after 20 minutes.
Hamilton shot 4-7 from the field, tallying nine points and seven rebounds, while 7-foot forward Amida Brima added six points and rebounds apiece. Temple’s struggles came inside the paint, as Connecticut out-rebounded the Owls, 23-14. Despite the fluidity, the Huskies conceded eight turnovers.
Jaylen Bond was the Owls’ first half scorer for the second straight game, earning nine points on three field goals and three free throws, including five boards and one assist. But Temple’s stroke remained cold, ending the half with only nine made baskets, a field goal percentage of 28-percent (9-32).
The second half would see the Owls contest and rally, cutting the deficit to six, 55-49 with nine minutes remaining. But free throws would be a catalyst to Temple’s ineptitude, as 10 missed shots from the charity stripe extinguished the hopes of a crunch-time comeback.
“I wish I had an answer for that,” said Owls’ head coach Fran Dunphy. “That’s the nature of the game. We didn’t shoot it well from the foul line. In a game like this, it’s going to come down to the end where if we do cut it to six, if we had done a better job at the foul line, maybe we’re down two or maybe even tied if we had done a better job, but we did not.”
Senior guard Quenton DeCosey and sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia were scant, combining for 19 points on only six made baskets, but forward Jaylen Bond made his presence felt for the second time this weekend, finishing 7-9 from the floor with 17 points and 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season. Temple’s depth was also dormant, as sixth man Devin Coleman added 13 of the team’s 15 bench points.
On the Huskies’ end, Hamilton recorded his 10th double-double of the year, while Shonn Miller totaled 52 points in three games against Temple this season. Connecticut shot 51-percent from the field (29-56), drilling seven three-pointers on 14 attempts. Sunday will mark Connecticut’s first trip to a conference championship since 2011, with a NCAA Tournament bid at grasp.
For Temple, who finished the regular season campaign with a record of 21-11, will once again be forced to sweat out Sunday with the future remaining ambiguous.
“It’s hard,” said Dunphy. “We were in this spot the year before but it’s out of our hands. We just pray tomorrow on Selection Sunday we hear our name called.”
68 Division I schools will be announced on the NCAA Selection Sunday show beginning at 6 p.m. on CBS, followed by the 32-team field National Invitation Tournament (NIT) selection show at 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
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