Temple falls short against Connecticut

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Quenton DeCosey is crowded by Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Quenton DeCosey is crowded by Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright.
Posted: February 21, 2014

IF IT'S TEMPLE basketball and it's Thursday, then it could only mean one thing: yet another game against a Top 25 opponent.

This time, it was No. 21 Connecticut, coached by former Sixers guard Kevin Ollie.

On Sunday, it was No. 23 SMU and Larry Brown. Last Friday, it was your defending national champion, Rick Pitino's No. 13 Louisville.

Tomorrow, Temple will be at No. 22 Memphis, which already beat the Owls by 10 here Jan. 10. Then there's a rematch with Louisville - which won that first meeting by 24 - down there to close out the month.

It is a stretch that only the Marquis de Sade would approve. But sometimes that's the way a schedule breaks. All you can do is try to make sure it doesn't break you.

It's the first time Temple will have played five straight ranked teams (the Owls had faced four in a row in 1995-96). This must have been what coach Fran Dunphy meant before the season when he said his team was "in the soup," now that it was playing in the new American Athletic Conference.

On Sunday vs. SMU, the Owls, playing without big man Anthony Lee, snapped a four-game losing streak by winning for only the second time since Christmas.

Last night at the Liacouras Center, they were trying to win back-to-back for their first time since early December. And also get consecutive victories against ranked clubs for the first time in the regular season. The only time they had ever done it was the first two rounds of the 2001 NCAA Tournament (over Texas and Florida), in what would become the last of John Chaney's five Final Eight runs.

For whatever reasons, it's been a different kind of ride this season. Did we mention that the Huskies - who'd won their last three and six of seven - beat them by 24 in Hartford a month ago?

Last night at the Liacouras Center, with Lee back in the lineup, the Owls - wearing pink sneakers and socks to honor National Cancer Prevention Month - fell to UConn once more, 68-55. So much for making history.

It was a six-point game with a little less than 13 minutes left. By the 6:47 mark, the margin had grown back to 14, where it was early in the second half.

The closest the Owls got after that was seven, on a three-point play by Lee with 2:08 to go. They got five more points, and UConn made it official at the foul line.

DeAndre Daniels had 13 for the visitors in 24 minutes, most of that coming in the first half. Ryan Boatright, who'd missed the first Temple game, added 14. Shabazz Napier, who averages a team-best 18, finished with 17 even though he shot 3-for-11. Making all 11 of your free throws helps. Somehow he also had 12 rebounds, even though he's 6-1. And seven assists. Then again, his 5.8 rebounding average does lead those guys. And he did score 27 the last time.

Quenton DeCosey led the Owls with 16, to go with a career-high eight boards. Lee and Will Cummings, who had foul issues, had 10 apiece. Mark Williams had eight off the bench, all in the first half. Top scorer Dalton Pepper scored 11, but went 4-for-18 from the floor.

"We struggled to score against a really good defensive team," Dunphy said. "But we had our open looks on the perimeter. Obviously, we didn't do a great job of knocking them down.

"In a stretch like this, you obviously have to be ready to go. Everyone has to step up. It's a great challenge. That's what you want. It's a tough row to hoe, but we have more in store.

"We did some good things, but you have to finish plays. We had some opportunities that just didn't go. If you want to win against a quality team like this, you can't do that."

The Owls (7-18, 2-11) shot 19-for-56, 5-for-18 on threes. But 16 turnovers, including too many of the unforced variety, definitely hurt.

UConn (21-5, 9-4) uncharacteristically made only two from deep, on 13 tries. But it got 10 more points at the foul line, on 10 more chances. And the six blocks by six players make a difference.

"We're just trying to accept the challenge, come out and play hard," DeCosey said. "After a couple of losses, I think we got down, started feeling sorry for ourselves. Against SMU we kind of got it back."

Now they have to find it again.

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