Happy New Year's Eve!

Owls open AAC play with 57-53 overtime win at UConn

HARTFORD, Conn. – It will be a happy new year on North Broad Street. In Connecticut, not so much.

While the hometown fans were disappointed, Temple went home happy with a 57-53 overtime victory over UConn at the XL Center on Wednesday afternoon.

For the Owls, it was their fourth straight win since Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman joined the lineup two weeks ago. It was also their first American Athletic Conference game, and maybe the toughest environment they’ll face this season. Coach Fran Dunphy’s squad is 10-4 – with a bullet.

The game was packed with storylines, from UConn star Ryan Boatright missing the second half and overtime with a deep thigh bruise, to Morgan drilling several huge shots, to the Owls hitting less than one-third of their field goal attempts for the second straight game – yet still getting the win.

But at the end – of regulation and overtime – the game was decided by free throw shooting.

With the Owls clinging to a two-point lead, UConn freshman Daniel Hamilton missed three free throws with 2.8 seconds left in the extra period. Will Cummings then iced the victory for Temple with a pair of free throws.

Two minutes earlier, Quenton DeCosey had given the Owls the lead with a pair of free throws. Those makes made up for a miss in the last minute of regulation.

Temple had a 51-45 lead with less than two minutes to go, but DeCosey and Jaylen Bond both missed the front end of 1-and-1 attempts, giving the Huskies a chance. They tied the game on a breakaway dunk by N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis with 12 seconds to go.

Playing the entire second half without Boatright, the senior point guard who averages nearly 20 points per game, UConn got a little bit from everybody, but not enough from anybody in particular on offense. Starting center Amida Brimah led the team with 12 points, while Hamilton added 10.

Meanwhile, with Bond limited to 11 second half minutes by foul trouble, the Huskies made some noise on the offensive glass and tightened up their defense. Temple’s best answer was Morgan, who drilled four three-pointers in the second half. He finished with a team-best 17 points, while DeCosey had 11 – shooting 1 for 9 from the field and 9 of 14 from the free throw line.

From beginning to end, the Owls struggled to put the ball in the basket. They shot 31.6 percent for the game. In the second half, however, they got a much-needed boost from Morgan.

Just past the 10-minute mark, with the home crowd roaring after an Omar Calhoun three-pointer cut Temple’s lead to 38-37, Morgan drilled an open three. Two minutes later, he made a steal and breakaway layup to push the lead to 43-37.

Morgan’s three-pointer from the corner with less than two minutes to go gave the Owls that 51-45 lead, and seemed like it could have been a game-clincher. But then came the missed free throws.

“More than anything, that was all mental,” said DeCosey, a 77.5 percent foul shooter this season. “Then I just had to focus and be mentally tough when I shot them again in overtime.”

Cummings hit the clinching free throws and finished with eight points, seven assists, and four steals – though he also committed a pair of turnovers late in regulation. Most notable, though, was his first-half defensive effort against the league’s leading scorer. Boatright shot 1 for 5 and scored two points in 17 minutes.

“I played against him last year so I had an idea what he wanted to do,” Cummings said. “We watched a lot of film and did our homework on him. We really didn’t want to let him come off screens and get going downhill.”

Josh Brown was equally successful shutting down the UConn star, with a lot of help from Bond whenever Boatright dribbled around a screen.

Bond finished with seven points and six rebounds. Obi Enechioniya also scored seven points for the Owls, including a thunderous dunk off an inbounds pass from Cummings early in the OT.

Off the bench, Coach Fran Dunphy’s squad got key minutes from Daniel Dingle, who totaled four points and two rebounds. In the last minute of regulation, Dingle missed a three-pointer that would have clinched the game, and then got the ball in the closing seconds but missed a driving baseline shot that would have won it.

Ultimately, the victory confirmed that last week’s win over Kansas was not a fluke. Arguably, it was the best road win of Dunphy’s nine-year tenure. And it should be enough to put the Owls back in the national basketball conversation.

Next up, Temple gets a chance for revenge with UCF (who beat the Owls in last year’s AAC Tournament) coming to the Liacouras Center on Sunday afternoon.

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