Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– Jesse Morgan managed to drill 5-three pointers and finished with a season-high 19 points as Temple defeated South Florida 73-48 Thursday night, snapping a three-game losing streak.
South Florida struck early with a 10-0 run to lead the Owls by 4 midway through the first half, but the Owls’ offense heated up with an offensive surge of their own, responding with a commanding 29-6 run going into halftime leading by 19.
“This was definitely a must-win,” said Junior Guard Quenton DeCosey. “We knew we had to get this one at home and protect home court.”
The Owls did not look back from their commanding halftime lead, and went on to shoot an impressive 10-25 behind the arc. Coach Fran Dunphy also decided to start Guard Will Cummings, who has been working hard to return to full strength after suffering an irritating left leg injury two weeks ago against Tulsa. Cummings managed to tally 12 points on the night, along with three steals and assists in his 28 minutes on the floor.
“Will makes a big difference, especially with his experience,” Dunphy said. “He did a great job controlling the pace of the game.”
Aside from the Owls’ success behind the three-point line, Temple attacked the boards on both ends of the court, outnumbering South Florida 48-40 in total rebounds.
“I thought overall we defended pretty well,” Dunphy added. “Jesse got hot in the first half, and that gives you some separation. You feel much more comfortable. The better the boys do on offense, the better they do on defense.”
Temple controlled the overall game tempo, responding quickly to South Florida’s early surge of buckets.
“It felt good to have some explosiveness,” Cummings said. “It felt good to be out there and get a much needed team victory.”
Since Jesse Morgan’s debut for the Owls this past December, the Owls went on an impressive roll, as they upset nationally ranked Kansas at Wells Fargo Center and defeated the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies on the road in consecutive games. After winning six straight, the Owls suddenly fell into a hole, losing back-to-back games at home, along with a crushing defeat in Cincinnati last Saturday.
“We can’t drop any more games,” Cummings said. “We can’t dwell on wins or losses. We need to focus on the next team and we need to bounce back.”
Temple has struggled with shot selection and field goal percentage all season long, but after a hot streak of shooting in the first half, the Owls ended the game shooting 40.9% from the field. Coach Dunphy was satisfied with the game in transition and how his players reacted during heated moments.
“We know the level we can play at,” said Morgan. “[Coach] told us to buckle down on defense and get the necessary stops.”
Temple now stands at 13-7 on the year, looking to turn the page on a frustrating January. The Owls hold fourth place with a 4-3 record in the American Athletic Conference, and hope to successfully respond to a difficult stretch of games in February against the conference’s potent opponents such as Tulsa and Cincinnati. Despite the Owls’ woes, the conference is still up for grabs, as no team appears to be capable of running away with the regular-season conference title.
“We have to take it one game at a time, one task at hand,” Morgan added. “We need to focus on anything that can get us a victory.”
The Owls will look to add another game in the win column as they visit the Knights of Central Florida next Wednesday evening. Very seldom is a “must-win victory” discussed in January, but if Temple wants to create some chatter among the NCAA committee, losing simply cannot be tolerated.
“We lost to three really good basketball teams before South Florida,” said Dunphy. “But all games are a must-win.”