Temple suffers largest loss of the season against Cincinnati, eliminated from AAC Tournament
Written by: Jake Gabel
Photo by: Andrew Mayo
Fort Worth, TX – Temple men’s basketball (16-16, 10-9 American Athletic Conference) fell to Cincinnati (21-11, 12-7 AAC) 84-54 in the second round of the AAC Tournament. Cincinnati will take on No. 1 Houston Cougars in the semifinals, and Temple’s season seemingly comes to an end.
Three players for Cincinnati had 20 or more points in the rout of Temple. All-AAC First-Team forward Landers Nolley II had 22 points, guard Dan Skillings Jr. had a career-high 20 points, and guard Mika Adams-Woods added 20 points as well.
It wasn’t just the offense that was producing for the Bearcats; the defense performed great as well. Cincinnati forward Viktor Lakhin tied an AAC Tournament record with seven blocks in the win, despite playing just 25 minutes.
Temple’s 30-point loss was the worst of the season. The only other loss with a difference of 20 or more points came against the University of Pennsylvania, 77-57, Dec.10.
In his fourth year as Temple’s head coach, Aaron McKie is still winless in the conference tournament, moving to 0-3. The loss to Cincinnati is added to losses against USF in 2021, and a loss versus Tulane last season.
“I want to continue to play and play in March,” McKie said. “We had every opportunity during the course of the year to do so, and we didn’t take advantage of it.
“I’ve been saying this to the guys throughout the season, ‘Don’t squander opportunities,’” McKie said. “And it’s not just with basketball, it’s with life. We had another opportunity today to extend the season and we didn’t do so.”
The Owls started the game hot. Temple took a 16-6 lead in the first seven minutes. Guard Damian Dunn scored the game’s first five points. Forward Zach Hicks hit two consecutive three-pointers to extend Temple’s lead as well.
“For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing a really good job of moving the ball, moving bodies, screening and all of those things,” McKie said. “We made some shots early, we got comfortable, and we got away from it.”
Then came the Bearcats, who quickly erased Temple’s lead. Cincinnati went on a 31-11 run over the rest of the first half, taking a 37-27 advantage into the break. Coming off of the bench, Skillings Jr. pushed the envelope with 11 points during that stretch. The four-star Roman Catholic (PA) graduate was recruited by Temple before he committed to Cincinnati.
Skillings Jr. only had three games scoring in double figures this season heading into this matchup, including his previous career-high 15 points in Cincinnati’s overtime win against Temple Feb. 22.
Inside scoring was a big difference in the first and second halves. Nearly every statistical category except points in the paint was nearly even at half, with Cincinnati leading Temple in that category 22-8. The game ended with Cincinnati outscoring Temple 40-20 in the paint.
“I think a lot of them, especially early on, came from offensive rebounding,” McKie said about Cincinnati’s points in the paint. “There’s a lot of things that you could point to when you talk about points in the paint. For me, a lot of it starts with being able to keep a guy in front and finishing your defensive possessions.”
Temple stayed cold to enter the second half, unable to put points on the board until the 15:51 mark. Temple cut the Cincinnati lead to 54-42 with about eight minutes remaining, which was the smallest Bearcats lead since the start of the second half. Then, Nolley II and Skillings Jr. hit back-to-back three-pointers to stretch the lead to 60-42, halting Temple’s momentum.
Cincinnati steamrolled Temple the rest of the way, finishing the game on a 30-12 run over the final eight minutes of the game. The Bearcats ended the game leading in every statistical category except for one: they tied the Owls with 13 offensive rebounds.
Four Owls scored in double figures in the loss: Dunn, Hicks, and forward Jamille Reynolds all scored 12 points, while guard Jahlil White scored 10. Forward Kur Jongkuch finished with two points in his final game with Temple.
After the end of what was deemed a “tournament-or-bust” season, all eyes now go to Dunn and McKie. Dunn graduates this year but is eligible to return next season. Meanwhile, with one year left on his contract, McKie’s return to Temple is also up in the air, according to some.
“No,” McKie said about if he is concerned about his future at Temple. “I don’t lose sleep over that. I want to continue to grow these kids and help this program as best as I can.”