Written By: Jake Gabel
Photo Courtesy of: Zamani Feelings
Philadelphia Pa – The Temple Owls were able to complete the comeback against the SMU Mustangs, 64-57 after trailing for a majority of the game. Temple’s Tai Strickland came off the bench and scored a career-high 27 points in the win.
Strickland was able to get to the free throw line for 14 attempts, making 11 free throws. Strickland explained that his awareness of how the defense was going to shift helped him drive and get to the line.
“I recognized early on that they weren’t helping off corners, especially on the opposite side,” Strickland said. “So that lane was wide open and they were just bringing their big down. I see the big, just got to create contact.”
Stars on both teams were missing for this one. Temple’s two top leading scorers Damian Dunn and Jeremiah Williams both missed their second consecutive game.
Dunn was out with an ankle injury and Williams out with a shoulder injury. Both of which were suffered two games ago in Temple’s loss to USF.
According to the Owls’ Jahlil White, the injuries to Dunn and Williams did not change the game plan one bit.
“Just defend and have fun on offense. Share the ball,” White said. “That is our game plan every game.”
SMU was also missing their leading scorer, Kendric Davis. Davis is not only the Mustangs’ leading scorer but the leading scorer in the American Athletic Conference as well, averaging 19.1 points per game.
In Davis’ absence, the Weathers twins, Michael and Marcus, were the ones to step up for SMU. They were the top two scorers for the Mustangs, Michael with 22 points and Marcus with 15 points.
In the second half, it was a battle between Temple’s Strickland and SMU’s Michael Weathers. The two would go back and forth trading blows, but SMU hung onto the lead for most of the second half.
Temple was able to finally tie the game up at 51-51 with just 1:31 left in the game. That was thanks to a Sage Tolbert III offensive rebound that led to a putback and-one.
A tough contested layup by Strickland would give the Owls the 53-51 lead with 53 seconds left. This was the Owls’ first lead in the game since all the way back at 4-2.
A crucial defensive stop on the other end would force the Mustangs to foul. From there it was a game of intentional fouls and free throws that would ultimately lead to a Temple victory.
It was a game of runs early on. SMU got out to a 19-7 lead, looking to run away with the game. Temple then stormed back, tying the game at 22-22 with 4:54 left in the first half. The Mustangs would finish the half strong, going into the break with a 28-22 lead.
For the Mustangs, Marcus Weathers led all players at the half with 11 points. For the Owls, Strickland was the team’s leading scorer at the half with 6 points.
This win for the Owls improves their record to 14-9 and 7-5 in AAC play. It keeps them in fifth place in the American standings, which is crucial because of the first round bye the top five seeds receive in the AAC tournament.
“Well, we’re aware of it,” Temple head coach Aaron McKie said about their place in the standings. “But the thing for us now is Cincinnati. Let’s just keep doing what we are doing, and it is the next game. We do not want to skip steps.”
As for SMU, this loss drops them to 18-6 and 9-3 in conference play. The Mustangs remain second in the AAC despite the loss. Their next game is against the third seed in the American, at home against the Memphis Tigers.
Temple’s next game is in Cincinnati against the 16-9 Bearcats. The game is set for Sunday, Feb. 20, with tip-off at 2 p.m. Temple won the last matchup earlier in the season in Philadelphia, 61-58.