Owls stifle Knights’ offense in 62-55 win

It had been 365 days since Temple held another basketball team to less than 60 points. 

That changed Thursday afternoon as the Owls (2-3, 1-3 in AAC) defeated UCF (3-4, 1-3) 62-55 on the backs of two separate second-half scoring droughts by the Knights. 

Temple held steadfast defensively for scoreless stretches of 4:51 and 6:17, effectively keeping UCF in sustained offensive silence for over half of the game’s closing period.

UCF’s volume scorer Brandon Mahan was stifled and left with only one basket on nine attempts from the floor, scoring just four points. His team as a whole was held to just 32.8% shooting from the field in the game, the lowest output of any opponent of the Owls this season.

The results? The team’s first conference win of the season and the cleanest that this Temple team has looked in this wonky, chaotic pandemic-shortened season. Some life was pumped into a previously stagnant offense and the team looked as one.

“We just started having fun out there and getting stops,” senior forward J.P. Moorman II said postgame. “That’s how you have fun in basketball, you start to have stops, get out in transition and the ball finds energy.”

The Owls’ enjoyment started following a pair of made free throws by UCF in the second half’s opening minutes. Over the next five minutes of basketball, the Knights committed three turnovers and shot 0-6 from the floor. Temple capitalized, going on an 11-0 run and pushing the lead to 38-29.

Freshman Jeremiah Williams starred in the stretch, collecting a steal, two assists and keeping Mahan and fellow UCF backcourt mate Darin Green off balance on the offensive end. The punctuation of his work in the run was a perfect read on UCF’s attempt to save a ball going out of bounds. Williams intercepted the ball, led the break and left a bounce pass for an emphatic De’Vondre Perry dunk.

“We wanted to be disruptive and take them out of that flow. We wanted to pressure those guys a little bit,” head coach Aaron McKie said postgame. “I thought we did that to start the second half and it really helped us get separation by getting consecutive stops.”

UCF was able to sustain some offense and even heat up to the tune of an 11-3 run following that defensive stretch. Green and the freshman forward Isaiah Adams both started to play better as they found the bottom of the net. 

However, just as the clock ticked down towards nine minutes left in the game and UCF had narrowed the gap to two, Perry ignited another run. Seeing that grad transfer guard Brendan Barry was being physically worked inside by Mahan. Adams inexplicably cuts into the lane, towards the action as the shot clock winds down. Perry realizes the mistake that Adams has made, collapses in on Mahan and Perry’s physicality forces a double team that the UCF guard could not get out of. 

The ball spills onto the floor, Perry recovers and opens up to an offensive possession in which the Owls get a quick bucket. That sequence was the turning point in an 8-0 run that would last over six minutes. All in all, the Knights went 0-7 from the field and committed two turnovers in that time as Temple found its way in their defensive rotations.

“It was a team effort,” Moorman said of the defensive success. “Guarding in basketball is all five guys, it’s not just one guy…we just have to all be accountable when it comes to trying to keep our guys in front of us to not try to have put ourselves in scramble situations.”

A sticking point from Monday’s 79-68 loss to SMU was the team’s inability to chase shooters off of the 3-point line in the second half, allowing the Mustangs to knock down 43.8% (7-16) of those attempts. Overall, teams had been shooting 41% from beyond the arc against Temple in the second half of games this season. The narrative changed on Thursday as the Knights were ice cold from distance in the game’s final twenty minutes, shooting a measly 12.5% (1-8). 

Granted, this was a UCF team coming off of a COVID pause and the game was played at noon, which historically is a horrible time for people looking forward to high scoring affairs. The problems aren’t all fixed, the team hasn’t suddenly got all the answers, but the cohesion of a roster that’s hardly been in the same building is beginning to form. 

“It was really us keying in on defense,” redshirt freshman guard Damian Dunn said of the performance down the stretch. “It was just making the quick adjustment of trying to dwindle (Green) and trying to pressure others, make others make plays where they aren’t really most comfortable at…I think it’s something that we did a decent job, could’ve been much better.”

The Owls have kept themselves in games in the first half this season. They adjusted well to their opponent defensively in the second half and did not let the other team’s backcourt dictate how the game was going to be played late. It’s a glance at greener pastures and it’s a sign that this group won’t need to drop 80 points every night to truly compete.

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