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February 21, 2014

Back to reality

Even in the midst of one of the worst seasons in its 119-year history, Temple has at least been able to do one thing fairly well - put the ball in the basket.

Until Thursday night.

Faced with the program's first opportunity to post consecutive regular-season wins over top-25 teams, the Owls mustered just nine second-half field goals and their second-lowest point total of the season in a 68-55 loss to No. 21 Connecticut before a modest crowd of 6,053 fans at the Liacouras Center.

Temple fell to 7-18 overall and 2-11 in the American Athletic Conference with the loss, its 13th in its last 15 games. The 18 losses are tied for the most of coach Fran Dunphy's tenure on North Broad Street (he went 12-18 in his first season) and the most of his 25-year coaching career (he never lost more than 17 games during his time at Penn).

After the Owls beat No. 23 SMU Sunday, it looked like they had taken some of that momentum into Thursday night's game. Temple led by as many as seven points, at 15-8, with 12 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first half after a jumper from guard Dalton Pepper and by 18-12 at the 10:05 mark following a three-point play from freshman forward Mark Williams.

But UConn (21-5, 9-4 AAC) used a 21-7 run to close out the first half and take a 33-25 lead at halftime. And a drought that saw the Owls go nearly 10 minutes without a field goal in the second half allowed the Huskies to build a lead as large as 14 points.

Temple got as close as seven - at 57-50 with 2:08 left to play - on a pair of free throws from forward Anthony Lee, who returned after missing Sunday's game with a knee injury, but the Owls never really threatened UConn the rest of the way.

Pepper, Quenton DeCosey and Will Cummings, the team's top three scorers, combined to shoot just 12 of 41 from the floor and 4 of 16 from 3-point range.

On several occasions, the open looks were there. Temple just didn't knock them down.

"We were just missing shots for a stretch out there," said DeCosey, who is shooting just 30.2 percent (23 of 76) over his last six games. "That said, we've just got to keep looking at the next possession, the next play. And if you miss a shot, just try to keep playing solid defense."

But DeCosey and the Owls were not able to put that into practice. Although UConn knocked down just eight second-half field goals, Temple could not stay in front of the Huskies' lightning-quick guards, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Napier, UConn's do-everything senior who leads his team in scoring, assists, steals and even rebounding (he had a game-high 12 Thursday night), shot just 3 of 11 from the floor but continued to drive decisively and relentlessly to the rim and was a perfect 11 of 11 from the free-throw line en route to collecting a game-high 17 points to go with seven assists.

Boatright, who didn't play when the Huskies pinned a 24-point loss on the Owls last month, scored nine of his 14 points in the first half.

Simply put, Temple didn't have anyone on its roster as quick as either Napier or Boatright, nor could it contend much with forward DeAndre Daniels (13 points on 6-10 shooting) or center Amida Brimah (10 points, five rebounds) when it mattered.

Lee had 10 points and six rebounds in his return, but he didn't get much help at all from sophomore forward Devontae Watson, who did not take a shot or score in just six foul-plagued minutes.

And things will not get any easier moving forward for a Temple team that finds itself two games into a five-game stretch of top-25 teams. No. 22 Memphis awaits the Owls Saturday.

"That's what you want," Dunphy said. "You want that great challenge. We've been presented with that. It's been a tough road to hoe but we've got more in store."

There was a point when Temple was 5-5 heading into 2014. Then sophomore forward Daniel Dingle was lost for the year with a knee injury and Cummings missed two games along the way with a concussion, but those injuries are not by any means the sole reason behind a season that has come completely unhinged for a program that has played in the last six NCAA Tournaments.

"I feel like after we got a couple losses, we kind of got down on ourselves and started feeling sorry for ourselves," DeCosey said.

"We stopped competing hard every night," he admitted.

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.


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