When it mattered most, Ernest Aflakpui stepped up. Literally.
With Temple up by two, the Owls senior big man stepped in front of a driving Corey Davis Jr. with 0.6 seconds left, drawing a charge and nullifying the game tying basket and a potential go ahead and 1 opportunity. The Owls held on to beat a ranked team for the 12th consecutive year, beating #17th ranked Houston 73-69 in front of a raucous crowd at the Liacouras Center Wednesday night, handing the Cougars its first loss of the season.
“He’s the best charge taker that’s a big guy that I’ve ever seen,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said.
Aflakpui finished with six points on 3-6 shooting and a tie for the team high in rebounds with seven.
The play capped off the loudest and most intense game on North Broad this season, a game that not only featured a walk-off charge, but also seven lead changes and a technical foul issued to Houston coach Kelvin Sampson for removing his tie and spiking it into the ground midway through the second half.
Sampson has been taking off his tie for years during games and says this was the first time he was ever issued a tech for it.
The game may also play a prominent role in the teams NCAA Tournament bid hopes in March as well, as a “quadrant one” victory against a ranked team will pay dividends when the committee reviews the Owls resume two months from now.
The Owls were led by Quinton Rose, who had 22 points on 6-18 (1-7) shooting and six rebounds to go along with a 9-10 performance on free throws.
Despite averaging 16.4 points per game, the junior guard has struggled from the field this season, shooting a career-low 41.7% and 19.7% from three. Rose is also shooting a career-low 57.5% from the foul line and averaging a career-high 2.7 turnovers.
“I’ve been struggling this season so it feels even better when you get into a scoring zone,” Rose said. ‘Especially from the foul line, to see all those shots go in, it’s just hard work paying off.”
Nate Pierre-Louis continued his breakout season, scoring 18 points on 4-8 (1-2) shooting and four rebounds, three of them on the offensive glass. The sophomore guard also went 9-10 from the foul line on a night where the Owls shot 89.2% on free throws, well above the teams 73.2% mark on the season.
Senior forward Breaon Brady led the way for the Cougars, scoring 19 points in just as many minutes on 7-10 (0-0) shooting. The Owls kept the explosive Houston backcourt of Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks to just 11 points and five points on 2-12 (1-7) respectively.
With the win, the Owls improve to 12-3 (2-1) and will continue conference play when they host USF on Saturday.
“Beating a ranked team will certainly help us moving forward,” Dunphy said. “We need to keep piling up as many wins as we possibly can in this conference.”