Battered and bruised, veteran guards Will Cummings and Dalton Pepper walked slowly and carefully as they ascended a single step onto the interview platform following Temple's 89-79 loss to Houston on Saturday night at the Liacouras Center.
The Owls were flattened by the Cougars' one-two-three frontcourt punch of TaShawn Thomas (24 points), Danrad Knowles (19 points), and Danuel House (13 points). And if that knockout wasn't bad enough, Cummings and Pepper looked like they had been bodyslammed by the 6-8, 240-pound Thomas, too.
On a night when Cummings totaled 18 points, eight assists, and committed just one turnover, and Pepper scored 24 points (18 in the first half), the Owls were still unable to beat a team that came in with a 2-8 road record.
They failed to win despite committing only four turnovers, and forcing 13 turnovers. They even grabbed more offensive rebounds (12) than the Cougars (11).
They lost despite shutting down Houston sharpshooters Jherrod Stiggers and Brandon Morris, who torched the Owls with 35 points and hit a combined 10 of 17 three-pointers in their previous meeting three weeks ago. This time, they hit 3 of 7 threes and combined for 16 points.
So many things went right for Coach Fran Dunphy's squad, which saw Anthony Lee return to action after missing two games with an injured toe.
The Owls jumped out to a 13-4 lead. Houston missed nine of its first 11 field goal attempts.
And then everything fell apart.
From there to the finish, the Cougars converted 30 of 41 field goal attempts. Wow! There were plenty of layups, a couple nasty dunks, and – when the defense collapsed inside – too many wide-open three-pointers.
The balance actually shifted right after Lee replaced Devontae Watson, who drew his second foul with 11 minutes to go in the first half, and the Owls holding a 20-16 lead.
Over the next five minutes, Houston ripped off a 15-1 run.
From there, the Owls chased and chased ... and chased. The deficit was four at halftime. They tied the score at 49 off a Cummings steal and layup early in the second half.
But the Cougars threw long after the basket and Knowles jammed it home. Then they nailed a pair of three-pointers. And the Owls were chasing again.
Knowles, a freshman, had the night of his life – hitting 7 of 7 field goals and 4 of 4 free throws. But it was Thomas who absolutely destroyed the Owls in the paint. He scored at will against single coverage, and shrugged off every double team.
For the Owls, Quenton DeCosey (12 points, one rebound) was a non-factor, and had his worst all-around game in several weeks. Josh Brown provided only a minimal spark off the bench, and Watson couldn't avoid foul trouble after a good opening stretch. Mark Williams (8 points) battled hard in the paint, but he couldn't do much against the one-two-three punch.
The most troublesome aspect of the game was the number of transition baskets that the Owls allowed, simply because they didn't get back on defense, or they didn't identify Houston's spot-up shooters.
Afterward, Dunphy said those baskets were mostly the result of mental errors, as opposed to a lack of energy.
But one look at Cummings and Pepper, hobbling in and out of the postgame press conference, told the story about the team's energy level. They really did leave everything out on the court.
Down by 10 with less than two minutes to go, Temple got as close as 82-77, and had a couple good looks from three-point range to make it closer.
But nobody wins when the opponent shoots 61.5 percent from the floor and 58.3 percent from three-point range.
The Owls dropped to 7-21 overall, 2-14 in American Conference play. They'll host Central Florida on Tuesday in a battle to avoid the league basement.
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