Houston topples Temple 76-50 in Owls’ AAC opener

Photo courtesy of Temple Athletics

One program came in the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference. The other came in projected to finish 10th in the league. One came in as a well-established program that has hopes to get into the national conversation. The other came in trying to find its footing and grow in just the second year under its new head coach. 

The former got the best of the latter as No. 6 Houston (5-0, 1-0) beat Temple (1-1, 0-1) on Tuesday 76-50 in an extremely frustrating game for the Owls. Quentin Grimes led the Cougars with 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting in 35 minutes of the play. 

Turnovers, bad shooting and a brutal night on the boards left the Owls playing at arm’s length for the first half before the doors got blown off by a spirited Houston effort in the second half. Houston led throughout, taking the lead 15 seconds into the game on a very open three-pointer by Grimes and never looked back. It was the start of a trend for the Cougars as the team knocked down six of its first ten shots from beyond the arc.

“Plays like (the Grimes three to start the game) can set the tone,” McKie explained after the game. “We had some missed assignments on their three-point shooters and they just felt good about themselves on the offensive end.”

In the second half, Houston began working the ball inside and scored 22 points from the interior. Forwards Reggie Chaney and Justin Gorham went to work combining for 27 points and 15 rebounds. Gorham had seven offensive boards on his own, nearly matching Temple’s entire offensive rebounding output.

Overall, the Owls were outrebounded 43 to 26, not quite as bad as last year’s 54 to 32 difference, but still, they have failed to match the Cougars’ physicality. Forward Jake Forrester only recorded two rebounds in fifteen minutes on the floor and Dre Perry was the only forward with more than three rebounds to his name.

“There’s no real technique behind it,” McKie said of Houston’s tenacity on the boards. “It’s just desire. They get pleasure out of going and getting offensive rebounds. …it’s more just us getting a body on guys and getting them off the glass.”

“We just got outworked,” senior forward JP Moorman said. “We have to do a better job of being more physical, more aggressive on the defensive…Obviously, they killed us on the offensive glass, but we didn’t do a good job of guarding their players.”

Moorman impressed in the first half on the scoring end, basically willing the Owls to any semblance of scoring. The senior captain had 10 of his team-high 12 points in the first half, shooting 4-for-7 from the field in the period. In addition to his scoring output, Moorman continues to flash a bit as a facilitator with a couple of nice passes into traffic. 

The lack of sharing the basketball was at the forefront of the team’s struggles early, from nonexistent off-ball movement to many attempts to play hero ball. Everything that felt good about the first half of Saturday’s game against NJIT was not to be found for the Owls in this one. These served as causes for the Owls turnover problem with Temple racking up 19 of them over the course of the game.

A lot of this started in the backcourt where Damian Dunn and Jeremiah Williams both came back down to Earth following very impressive first career starts against NJIT. It’s not totally unexpected, Houston has been known for its guard play over the past few years and has an incredibly deep and experienced unit that drives even the most seasoned backcourts crazy.

Dunn had a particularly frustrating night, finishing with seven points on 0-for-4 shooting from the field, six turnovers and fouling out late in the game. Both received technicals from whistle-happy refs for their roles in jawing back and forth with Houston players in the latter stages of the second half. 

“It’s really asking those guys a lot,” McKie said of his young duo. “They struggled and it took them some time in the first half to get adjusted. They came out in the second half and played a little it better, but…we can take this game and learn a lot from it.”

One bright spot was Brendan Barry’s jumper as the Dartmouth transfer knocked down three of his four attempts from beyond the arc. McKie described Barry as a “calming presence” and explained how just having Barry on the floor makes defenses focus more on him. 

After this brutal loss, the Owls are scheduled to have eight days until they face SMU at the Liacouras Center on December 30th. Aaron McKie would like to get another game on the schedule before then but understands it is going to take someone else having a free day in order to do so. Regardless of where they play next, this young and talented bunch for the Owls got to see what a perennial AAC contender looks like. 


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