Fine Finale

The Temple men's basketball team won a game that could keep it out of the American Athletic Conference basement and also sent senior guard Dalton Pepper out with a victory in the final home game of his career. Pepper scored a game-high 26 points and his reverse layup with 33.6 seconds left in overtime gave Temple an 80-76 lead on the way to an 86-78 victory over Central Florida.

The Temple men's basketball team won a game that could keep it out of the American Athletic Conference basement and also sent senior guard Dalton Pepper out with a victory in the final home game of his career.

Pepper scored a game-high 26 points and his reverse layup with 33.6 seconds left in overtime gave Temple an 80-76 lead on the way to an 86-78 victory over Central Florida in the last home game of the season at the Liacouras Center.

"It feels really good just to get a win my last game at the Liacouras Center and just end off the regular season the right way," said Pepper, who has blossomed from a deep reserve to the Owls' leading scorer this season.

Temple improved to 8-21 overall and 3-14 in the American, while the Knights fell to 11-17, 3-14. The Owls entered the night a game behind South Florida and Central Florida at the bottom of the American standings with the conference tournament just over a week away in Memphis.

Temple closes the regular season at South Florida on Saturday.

"We need wins, we need to get more confidence about ourselves," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "We obviously didn't play great. They had a stretch at the end of the first half where they hit three threes and we knew it would be a battle. They played inspired and we still need work on our defense, but we came up with a victory."

Pepper's pass to Anthony Lee for a layup with one second on the shot clock gave the Owls a 70-68 lead in regulation. It looked like it could have been the game-winner until Calvin Newell (23 points) drew a foul and rattled home both foul shots to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left.

Temple point guard Will Cummings tried to go coast-to-coast, but his layup attempt was soundly rejected by Stephon Blair at the buzzer.

Pepper was playing his final home game after three years at Temple following a two-season stint at West Virginia. He will be the only senior departing as the Owls try to get back to being the type of program that made the NCAA Tournament six consecutive years prior to this one.

"We came into today and all week saying let's get this win for Dalton, we knew we had to step up and make some great plays down the stretch," said Cummings, who finished with 23 points.

Temple's last-ditch attempt to keep that NCAA streak going will come in Memphis next week where it would have to win four games in four days – most likely beating three teams that are ranked or have been ranked in the Top 25.

The Owls' longest win streak this season is three.

"I hope the league gets five teams into the NCAA," said Dunphy of Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Connecticut and Memphis. "….I hope it gets six teams."

The Owls struggled with a team that is missing their leading scorer and rebounder, Isaiah Sykes, who was averaging 16.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg. Sykes was nursing a foot injury.

The numbers were mostly good for Temple. It grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, dished out 15 assists to nine turnovers, posted nine steals and hit 22-of-26 from the foul line. But the Knights shot 50 percent from the field and 11-of-23 on three-pointers.

Anthony Lee added 20 points and 10 rebounds as the third Owl with 20 points and one of four players who played over 40 minutes. But the problem all year hasn't been defense.

"We have to start thinking very much about doing things better defensively, whether we take more chances, do some different things strategy-wise, but we're a struggling defensive team," said Dunphy.

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