Temple falls victim to itself, loses 63-60 to Cincinnati

Travel, Bad Pass Turnover, and Lostball Turnover.

The conclusion of the last three true offensive possessions, the final possession was a three second endeavor ended by a contested Khalif Battle heave from three, reads as such in the play by play recap of Temple’s (4-6, 3-6) 63-60 loss to Cincinnati (4-7, 2-4) at the Liacouras Center on Thursday night.

Marred by turnovers and a stagnant offense, the Owls fell victim of their own shortcomings. It’s not a new storyline, but it’s even more noteworthy in a game that featured an underperforming opponent that has spent more than three weeks off of the basketball court due to COVID-19 issues within its program. 

“It’s bothersome because you never want to beat yourself but I thought that’s what we did,” Temple head coach Aaron McKie said of the team’s struggles. “We got off to a slow start, but we just had so many uncharacteristic, unforced turnovers…we must clean it up.”

The waning moments of the game were intense, the type of late game feel that would have had the Liacouras Center jumping in a non-COVID world. The teams locked at 51 with just under five minutes to go, each taking their turns at 5-0 runs and keeping it locked at 56 as the game ticked below two minutes remaining.

Then, experience took over.

A free throw by Michigan transfer David DeJulius and close range buckets by both veterans Jeremiah Davenport and Keith Williams counteracted a Khalif Battle layup, giving the Bearcats a 61-58 advantage. The Owls struggles as a team from the free throw line kept Temple in it until the aforementioned Battle heave. The Owls failed to get any good look at the bucket after falling behind by three, scoring their final points on two of guard Damian Dunn’s three attempts from the free throw line in the final 20 seconds. 

The play that truly sticks out is the lost ball turnover with thirteen seconds left and the Owls trailing by three. Brendan Barry had control of the ball, tried to force it to Battle and the sophomore guard never quite got a handle on it as it was tipped around and rolled out of bounds. Cincinnati took over possession and the game was all but locked up.

“We had a play set up, they took us out of it a little bit. We didn’t get to the side that we wanted to, but we could have ran it on the other side as well,” McKie explained postgame.  “We lost control of the ball…it was smart on their part to get the pressure up there and take the ball out of our primary ball handlers’ hand.”

“It’s just a learning lesson for us,” Dunn added. “We’re going to look at it, watch it, study it, not take it to heart. Everybody’s going to lose games, we’re going to make mistakes. It’s just growing pains.”

In a very real sense, the Owls should have been out of this game quickly. Five turnovers in the game’s opening four minutes. Junior forward Jake Forrester picked up two fouls in that time frame. The team shot a meager 32% from the field and 50% from the free throw line at halftime.

Cincinnati had every chance to put this game away in the first half, yet only led the Owls by eight points going into the break. The Bearcats also shot the ball poorly and weren’t particularly great at protecting the ball either. 

The one engine that drove them was DeJulius, who poured in a career high 26 points on 10-18 shooting from the field. The former sixth man for Juwan Howard’s Wolverine team had been largely a facilitator for the Bearcats this season, averaging only 8.6 points per game and an impressive 5.3 assists going into the game. 

He also anchored the Bearcats’ defense, which forced 19 or more turnovers for the third time this season.

“They stuck to their game plan and took options away (for us),” Dunn said of Cincinnati’s defense. “

There was a glimmer of light in the otherwise murky performance, a nearly seven minute stretch in the second half where the Owls went on a 16-4 run and were seemingly in control of the game. Four of Temple’s five buckets in that stretch were assisted on and the Owls turned Cincinnati over five times on the defensive end.

It was emblematic of the team that most hope this group can become. 

However, the stark reality of a young, inexperienced bunch struck as the game drew near its finale. Contest jumpers. Driving through traffic. Attempting to be the hero. All things that drove a promising half into the ground and gave the Bearcats a chance to stick around.

“When we moved the ball, I thought we played better in the second half,” McKie said. “I thought we did a better job of moving the ball and not allowing it to stick. But when the ball starts to stick for us, it’s just not a good look for us.”

The Owls will seek to bounce back on Sunday when the team travels for the first time in three weeks to Wichita State (10-4, 6-2). Tip off is set for 3:00pm.

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