Fantastic Finish

The Temple men’s basketball team honored its seniors and maybe locked up a trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 75-63 victory over defending national champion Connecticut on Saturday. The Owls opened American Athletic Conference play with an overtime win at Connecticut on New Year’s Eve and closed a strong bounceback season in the league by pulling away from the Huskies late.

The Temple men’s basketball team honored its seniors and maybe locked up a trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 75-63 victory over defending national champion Connecticut on Saturday.

The Owls opened American Athletic Conference play with an overtime win at Connecticut on New Year’s Eve and closed a strong bounceback season in the league by pulling away from the Huskies late.

Temple will head to the conference tournament this week with a 22-9 overall record and 13-5 league mark. The Owls will have the No. 3 seed if Memphis beats Cincinnati Sunday and the No. 4 seed if the Bearcats win the game.

If the Owls are No. 4, they will face Memphis. A No. 3 seed would earn them the winner of No. 6 Connecticut versus No. 11 South Florida.

“We’ve had a really solid year,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “I don’t know what people’s minds were like before the season, I didn’t sit and do the Ws and Ls, but we have a conference tournament coming up and hopefully good things happen for this group.

“Each team has own personality. But the addition of Jaylen Bond and Will (Cummings) stepping up this season were huge for this team.”

Cummings and Jesse Morgan were spectacular in their final home games. A four-year contributor, Cummings has blossomed this season and capped his home career with a 23-point, five-assist, three-steal performance.

"It’s been a crazy ride, to see what we went through last year makes this type of win emotional,” said Cummings, talking about last year’s nine-win season.

Morgan, who is playing only a half-season with the Owls after transferring from Massachusetts, drained five threes on his way to 17 points.

Temple trailed by five at the half as UConn star and AAC Player of the Year candidate Ryan Boatright went off for 21 points. But Boatright was held to just four points in the second half and the Owls outscored the Huskies, 43-26, after the break.

“I was able to be aggressive, press up on him and not look over my shoulder,” said Morgan. “I told Coach Trice I wanted to guard Boatright to let Will run the team and take a load off him.”

Said Cummings: “(Boatright’s) a great player, has a great knack for scoring the basketball and we just tried to slow him down."

The Owls also honored seniors and deep bench reserves Jimmy McDonnell and Nick Pendergast, who each started. Now maybe this group will be going back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

“Everybody was saying it was a big game,” said Cummings. “We wanted to come out and make a statement.”

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