Written By: Jake Gabel
Photo Courtesy of: Ajay Patel
Philadelphia, Pa – The shorthanded Temple Owls fell to the more shorthanded #12 Houston Cougars 66-61 at the Liacouras Center on Sunday night. Fabian White Jr. led the Cougars with 15 points while Damian Dunn led the Owls with 14.
“It is still a loss. It is something that we can grow from,” said Temple head coach Aaron McKie. “They are certainly one of the better teams in the country, but you know, we wanted to make a statement and we did not make the statement that I wanted the guys to make. And so, you know, here we are.”
The story going into the game was more about who was not going to play than who was. Temple was missing starting center Jake Forrester due to a non-COVID related illness and guard Tai Strickland due to a back injury.
“Jake is a big part of everything we do on both ends and we definitely could have used him tonight,” Dunn said. “Just being another big body to help get rebounds and contesting shots.”
Not to mention, Temple lost leading scorer Khalif Battle for the season in December. Houston was hit even worse with the injury and COVID bug as they only had seven available players for this game. The Cougars were missing three of their top four scorers.
This was also both programs’ first game in 11 days. Temple and Houston both had separate COVID-19 outbreaks on their teams, and each had a game postponed.
“The problem with it is when you sit guys out, they don’t get a chance to really practice,” McKie said. “We had a couple guys that played some major minutes for us that haven’t been on the floor in a few days, so that’s the difficult part of it.”
Even while undermanned, Houston got off to a fast start. The Cougars got out to an 8-0 lead quickly. That lead would then balloon to an 18-5 lead for Houston.
Houston came into the game as the best offensive rebounding team in the American, and that trend continued early on. Houston had seven offensive rebounds in the first 12 minutes of the game. That is how many rebounds Temple had as a team total.
It was a game of runs in the first half, however, as Temple would respond. They caught up to Houston and made it a 24-20 game. It was then Houston’s turn, subsequently scoring 12 unanswered points to make the score 36-20.
The Owls finished the half with momentum on their side, making the halftime score 40-29. Jamal Shead led the Cougars with 12 points, while Dunn led the Owls with six points.
Starting the second half off, Temple kept the momentum going. They got off to a 12-2 run, cutting the Houston lead to 42-41. Dunn hit two threes during the run for the Owls.
The game continued to seesaw, as Houston would go up 57-47. Temple kept the back and forth nature of the game going as they cut the lead to 57-54. Two of those points came off a head-scratcher of a play from Owls guard Jeremiah Williams.
A pass went into the backcourt, and Williams expected a backcourt violation but none was called. The shot clock only had a few seconds remaining on it, so Williams chucked up a prayer from halfcourt. Williams missed badly, but it hit the backboard and the rim and bounced back to a sprinting Williams who was able to continue his sprint into a layup.
Temple’s Jahlil White fouled out on a controversial offensive foul call. White drove to the basket and kicked the ball out to Zach Hicks in the corner who made the three to tie it at 57-57. The three was taken off the scoreboard because of a charge call that went against White.
Houston improves to 12-2 on the season and 1-0 in conference play. For their next game, they head to the University of South Florida for a matchup against the 5-7 Bulls.
As for the Cherry and White, they fall to 7-6 on the season and 0-2 in conference play. Temple also travels to Florida to take on the 9-3 UCF Knights. The Knights beat the Owls earlier in the season in Philadelphia 65-48. The game is scheduled for Jan. 5 with tipoff at 7 p.m.