Owls win in overtime in home finale

Posted: March 06, 2014

IT WAS AN overtime win over another team that was trying to stay out of the American Conference basement, specifically a Central Florida team that was missing top scorer Isaiah Sykes (foot injury) and coach Donnie Jones (flu).

But for a Temple team that's had to go through the first 20-loss season in program history, it was a win. And that's something, especially since this was the Owls' last game of the season at the Liacouras Center.

"It's important," coach Fran Dunphy said after the extra 5 minutes produced an 86-78 final. "We need wins, to get more confidence about ourselves. Obviously we didn't play great. We still need to work on our defensive play. But we came up with the victory."

And their lone senior, guard Dalton Pepper, at least got a proper sendoff.

"They really wanted him to have this as a going-away present," Dunphy said.

Pepper, a Pennsbury High product who spent his first two seasons at West Virginia before transferring home, had a game-high 26 points, nine above his team-best average. Six came in the final 30 seconds, after he hadn't scored in more than 10 minutes, on a backdoor layup and four clinching free throws.

"It feels really good to just get a win," said Pepper, who didn't play much last season on a team that had five seniors and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year. "This was big for us. We want to end the regular season the right way. It's been rough. You never want to have a losing season. But I'm happy just being out there, playing basketball and trying to contribute."

The Owls (8-21, 3-14 American Athletic Conference) led by 11 with 14 minutes remaining in regulation. Six minutes later, UCF (11-17, 3-14) went up one. The Owls went back ahead by four, on three occasions. UCF took a lead on a three with 2 1/2 minutes left. The Owls did likewise on a trey by Will Cummings. UCF tied it on two foul shots at 1:48. An Anthony Lee layup, off a nice feed from Pepper with the shot clock winding down, gave the Owls the edge once again with a little more than a minute to go. Then Calvin Newell (team-high 23 points) pulled UCF even one last time by rolling in two freebies at 4.7 seconds. Following a timeout, Cummings was able to drive to the rim but his shot was blocked by Staphon Blair and it was on to OT at 70-all.

UCF scored first. But the Owls got the next five. And the visitors never got closer than one. The Owls scored their last 11 in the final 1:07.

Cummings had 23. Lee had 20, and also got 10 rebounds, for his 11th double-double but first in a month. The Owls were outscored by 10 from the arc, but had 10 fewer turnovers. They also had 17 offensive boards, which negated the fact that UCF shot 50 percent, 47.8 from three.

Sykes had 23 in the first meeting, a two-point UCF win in Orlando on Jan. 4. Cummings, who's from Orlando, had 31 in that game. The Owls close Saturday at South Florida (12-18, 3-14), which won here by seven on Jan. 9. Cummings scored only two in that one, in 16 minutes, before leaving with a concussion.

"We're focusing on closing out with two wins going into the conference tournament," he said. "Then we'll try to string together some [more] wins. You never know."

The Owls haven't had won back-to-back since Nov. 24 and Dec. 4. And they haven't won on anyone else's home court since the opener at Penn. They did beat Long Island at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Dec. 21. That, by the way, is where they'll play next November, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, along with Duke, Stanford and UNLV.

For now, though, it's still very much about what is directly in front of them, no matter how long they can make that last.

"I think the guys have kept their attitude and their way pretty solidly," Dunphy said. "There's been some frustration, certainly, from all of us. But for the most part, we've kept our focus from game to game to game. We've been what we needed to be a number of games. We just haven't finished it out."

Now they'll get another chance. The last one.

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