Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA— After turning the page on a disappointing loss to Tulsa on Saturday, Temple looked for a turn-around performance against a strong Southern Methodist Mustangs group. The Owls held their own with a seven-point lead at the half, but surrendered two key buckets behind the arc late in the second half, as Temple fell to Southern Methodist 60-55.
Owls Guard Will Cummings was not in the starting lineup due to a muscle strain in his left leg that he suffered Saturday. Off the bench, Cummings managed 27 minutes on the floor with five assists, but finished with a single point at the charity stripe. Josh Brown replaced Cummings in the lineup, but struggled early committing four costly turnovers in the first half. Temple coach Fran Dunphy was aware of Cummings’ difficulties in transition. “I think he tried his best to give his maximum effort,” Dunphy added. “I can’t imagine he’ll practice tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll get some minutes for him on the practice court Friday.”
Injuries aside, Temple’s shot selection was superb in the first half, shooting an exceptional 11-24 from the floor, along with 6 three’s on 16 attempts. Senior Guard Jesse Morgan lead the Owls in points with 15, but did not manage to contribute an assist. Morgan tallied 8 points in the first half, but cooled off in the second, finishing 3-10 behind the arc. “We need to be smarter late in the game making decisions,” Morgan said. “We need to get better and close out games.”
Temple managed to surrender a 13-point lead early in the second half, as the Owls defense struggled to get in the face of Southern Methodist’s shooters. “We need to do a better job boxing out,” said Forward Jaylen Bond. Temple was also outnumbered on the boards late, as SMU held a 20-8 rebounding advantage in the second half alone.
A re-occurring issue for the Owls has been a decline and inconsistency in field goal percentage. Fran Dunphy said he had no issue in the shots his players were taking. “Our shot selection was better than Saturday, but we do need a low post presence.” Temple barely established their game five feet from the basket, as they tallied only 16 points in the paint.
Southern Methodist’s Guard Markus Kennedy lead all scorers with 21 points, shooting 9-11 from the field along with 7 total rebounds.
The ballgame was knotted at 52 with under two minutes left to play, but Mustangs Guard Nic Moore silenced the rowdy and aggressive crowd with a three-point shot with 80 seconds remaining, along with a monster two-handed slam by Kennedy to make the SMU lead 57-52.
The pace was fast in the first half with successful transition games on both ends, but countless fouls committed by Temple forced the Owls to soften their defensive pressure. Starting Forward Obi Enechionyia was limited early due to foul trouble, and finished with a single rebound in his 14 minutes of playing time. “There were a couple loose balls that we had to get because we were undersized late,” Dunphy said, “but they made good plays out of us not getting those loose balls.”
Entering the game with a record of 12-5, the Owls knew before tip-off that games must be won at home, especially against strong American Conference competitors. “It’s a hard stretch, but that’s the challenge we want for these guys”, Dunphy implied.
On the winning side, Mustangs head coach Larry Brown made his return to Philadelphia, receiving a great amount of popularity among the fans and Southern Methodist faithful. Brown was proud of his team’s rally and execution in the second half on both sides of the ball. “Since I’ve been here, we haven’t come back from a double-digit deficit lead against anybody,” said Brown. “This win is a big step for our program because we beat a quality team.” Southern Methodist improves to 13-4 on the year, half a game behind Tulsa for first place in the American Athletic Conference.
Temple begins a difficult stretch of conference games Saturday, as they travel to Cincinnati to face the 11-4 Bearcats. The Owls began conference play with a 3-0 record, but have lost two consecutive games at the Liacouras Center. Effective shot selections and improvements on defense must be made in order for Temple to remain atop the conference leaders.