Temple Owls fall to UCF in second consecutive heartbreaker

Feb 19, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls head coach Fran Dunphy calls a play to his team during the second half against the Connecticut Huskies at Liacouras Center. UConn won 64-63. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls head coach Fran Dunphy calls a play to his team during the second half against the Connecticut Huskies at Liacouras Center. UConn won 64-63. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

After getting trounced in their first matchup with UCF, the Temple Owls were out to tie the season series with the Knights at the Liacouras Center on Wednesday.

The Temple Owls [14-15, 5-11 AAC] fell to the Central Florida Knights [18-10, 9-7 AAC] 71-69 in a second consecutive heartbreaking home defeat in a week. BJ Taylor of UCF led all scorers with 19, with most of those points coming in a huge second half where he was a man on a mission. Obi Enechionyia led the Owls with 17, all coming in the second half. This game continued the misery for the Owls in the American Athletic, as they dropped to 5-11 on the season in the conference after a promising start outside of the conference.

Enechionyia and Shizz Alston had 32 combined for the Temple Owls, as they were two of the four Owls that achieved double figures in this game. The Owls had just 15 points from the bench, something they will want drastic improvement from if they are to compete in their final games of the season.

The Temple Owls found themselves with an immediate problem of the 7’6″ form. Division I’s tallest player, Tacko Fall, was immediately proving a huge issue for Temple. Being he was largely covered by 6’11” Damion Moore, the seven inches was always going to prove to be a tough gap offensively and defensively. Fall immediately shot out of the gate with 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the first 6 minutes of the game. Marc Narducci of philly.com said it best:

The first half involved both teams trading blows in very different ways. UCF’s game plan was to get the ball down low to Fall for obvious reasons, but Fall’s presence limited Temple to mostly jump-shots. Impressive shooting from freshman Quinton Rose, coupled with usual production from Shizz Alston Jr meant the Temple Owls were comfortable with the flow of the first half.

Temple’s defensive game plan was working to perfection in the first half. If you eliminate the put-backs and instances where Fall had essential free baskets, the Temple Owls were absolutely lockdown. Shizz Alston, Quinton Rose, and Daniel Dingle were as good as they’ve been defensively on the perimeter in the first half, allowing UCF’s guards no easy looks. Both teams were drastically different on their paths to success in the first half.

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The Cherry and White’s went into the break with a 33-24 edge, with Rose, Alston, and Mark Williams combining for 22 of the team’s 33. Temple’s defense forced 8 first half turnovers while gathering 4 steals and 3 blocks in that frame. There was an extremely drastic difference in the Owls’ play with Fall on the court as opposed to him on the bench.

Coming out of halftime, Fran Dunphy and the Temple Owls wanted to put some distance between them and the Knights. Obi Enechionyia came out firing with two quick threes after the break, and every bit of it was needed. Matt Williams was immediately ready to outdo him, as he drained three consecutive buckets (2 three’s) to bring the game to 39-39 with 15:20 left, erasing a 10 point Temple edge in 2 minutes.

As the intensity of the game picked up, tempers began to flare a bit. Matt Williams gave Shizz Alston a pretty obvious elbow to the face, which resulted in blood from the latter. The teams had to be separated after a bit of escalation, but that was not the last we saw from those two. Williams shot Alston a cheap elbow into the scorer’s table after a play just minutes later, throwing the crowd at the Liacouras Center into a frenzy. With the score 48-46 Temple with 11:29 left at this point, the game was completely up for grabs. Alston was short and sweet in what he had to say in the postgame presser regarding the incident:

"“It was just two guys being competitive, I’m a competitor and that’s all. It was just two guys going for the win”."

The two teams continued to trade blows, with Alston and Enechionyia getting two huge threes in the next five minutes. They were canceled out by Williams and BJ Taylor making some tough, contested shots for the Knights to bring the game to 59-57 Owls with six left.

After a few buckets by Nick Banyard, Shizz Alston hit a crucial three to put the Owls up by one. Not to be outdone, BJ Taylor hit another huge second half shot, a three to put UCF up 68-66 with 1:36 left in the game. Enechionyia hit another enormous three to put the Owls back up one, and Taylor again put a dagger in Owls’ fans hearts with another three to put the Knights up 70-69 with under a minute to play.

After a missed Tacko Fall free throw, Mark Williams missed a great look to give the Owls a two-point lead from three. BJ Taylor subsequently went 1-2 from the line, and with 3.6 seconds left Obi Enechionyia was only able to throw up a helpless half-court airball as time expired. The Owls were left with another extremely sour taste in their mouth in a game where they led large parts. After the Uconn game, this was no easier to swallow for Temple. Watch the missed three from Mark Williams here:

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This was a tough one for the Owls, especially after what transpired in the Uconn game. Fran Dunphy should be proud of the way his team fought, especially after the drubbing the Knights handed them earlier in the season. The Owls will want to finish the season strong, and that will start in their next game against lowly Tulane in the home finale on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.