Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
A bitter cold offensive performance shot the Owls down at the XL Center in Hartford Saturday, as the nationally ranked Southern Methodist Mustangs rebounded from a sluggish first half to dominate all phases in the second half, defeating Temple 69-56 in the American Athletic Conference semifinals.
The contest opened up early with an aggressive push from Temple, as the Owls began their offense on an 11-2 run with two three pointers made by senior Jesse Morgan. Forward Jaylen Bond suffered a minor ankle sprain against Memphis in yesterday’s quarterfinal match up, but was announced in the starting lineup Saturday without a sign of struggle.
Mustangs’ starting center Yanick Moreira left the court twice in the first three minutes with an apparent knee injury, but returned to action midway through the first half with four points and six rebounds.
Both offenses struggled from the field in the first twelve minutes, but Temple managed to post a 14-7 lead with a little help from freshman forward Obi Enechionyia, who went 4 for 4 from the free throw line with six points.
Nic Moore, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, played with a cold first half performance, finishing 1 for 6 from the field with a lone outside jump shot at the two minute mark.
The Owls’ recent success at the charity stripe made the difference on the scoreboard, as Temple made ten of eleven from the free throw line off of ten Mustang fouls. A fast-paced transition game also served the Owls well, tallying nine points off of Southern Methodist’ turnovers.
Temple lead throughout the first half, but lacked in progress from the field, making only two field goals in the final ten minutes. The Owls entered the locker room leading by a bucket, 28-26. Jesse Morgan was the first half leading scorer with eight points.
As the second half began, Jaylen Bond re-entered after two quick fouls in the fist half, and scored the first bucket down low to make the Owl lead four. Unfortunately for Bond, he was charged with two abrupt personal fouls, and was forced once again to the bench three minutes in.
The Mustangs captured their first lead of the afternoon with an early jumper by Moreira which sparked a 10-2 run to make the game 45-38 with under thirteen minutes remaining. At the midway point in the second half, Temple’s shooting struggles continued, as the Owls shot roughly 30% from the field in the first twelve minutes.
With the Owls trailing 59-50 with five minutes remaining, senior Will Cummings suffered an apparent left shoulder injury after a loose ball scramble in the Mustangs’ paint. Temple surprisingly stayed within striking distance with Cummings on the sideline, trailing 63-56 with 2:10 left in regulation. With the game nearly won for the Mustangs, Will Cummings fortunately returned to action in the final minute, finishing 2 for 10 from the floor with nine total points.
As the final buzzer sounded, Southern Methodist captured their 26th victory of the season, defeating Temple 69-56, advancing to the AAC Championship Game. Temple finished shooting an abysmal 17 of 58 from the field (29%), making only four jumpers from behind the arc on twenty-four total attempts.
With Jaylen Bond’s absence for nearly thirty minutes of action, Southern Methodist took advantage of the Owls’ shortened forecourt, outnumbering Temple 45 to 32 on the boards. The Mustangs’ leading scorer was Markus Kennedy with 17 points along with nine total rebounds off the bench. Temple’s leading man was Quenton DeCosey, finishing 5 of 11 with 14 points.
Saturday’s matinee marked the final American Athletic Conference game for the Owls this season, finishing with an overall record of 23-10 and 13-6 in AAC play. Temple’s next and final destination will be decided Sunday evening by NCAA selection committee, as the Owls will either be granted a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, or given a bid to the National Invitational Tournament beginning next week.