When Temple’s Ernest Aflakpui split a pair of free throws with 18:04 to play in the second half of Sunday’s contest between the Owls and Cincinnati, it looked like the Bearcats were finished. Fast forward to the end of the game and the Bearcats had managed to pull out a 72-68 victory, improve to 18-3 overall and maintain their tie with the Houston Cougars for first place in the American Athletic Conference.
Before we can examine how the Bearcats won, let’s take a look at how they almost lost. It was the same story as always in the first half. UC struggled on offense, taking a lot of rushed shots from beyond the arc and pull-up jumpers while the Owls were scorching hot from three-point range. Temple made 7-of-16 triples in the first half while the Bearcats had nine total field goals and missed all seven of their shots from three-point range. When they took their time, things were even worse, as they had two shot-clock violations. It was a particularly tough afternoon, especially early on, for Jarron Cumberland, who missed three three-pointers and only went 2-fo-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes.
So what kept Temple to just a 35-25 halftime lead and not a bigger advantage? There were a few things. A switch to a zone defense late in the first period seemed to create fewer open looks for Temple’s offense and Logan Johnson brought a great amount of energy off the bench, blocking a shot, flying in on the offensive glass and getting the ball out on the break. Nysier Brooks also made an impact with three offensive rebounds while Trevon Scott scored seven points.
The second half started much like the first, with Shizz Alston Jr. nailing a three on Temple’s first possession and pushing the UC deficit to 13 points. The free throw from Aflakpui then gave the Owls their largest lead of the game.
That’s when the tide started to shift. Cumberland, clearly fed up with missing shots from the outside, took the offense onto his back and decided to put the ball on the deck and force his way to the rim. UC’s leading scorer netted 18 points in the second half while going 9-for-13 from the foul line. Key triples and nine points apiece from Keith Williams and Justin Jenifer helped close the gap. Williams was especially critical to the rally, as he got a rebound on one end and splashed a triple on the other with 5:34 to play that finally put the Bearcats ahead 57-55. Temple quickly tied it back up but would never lead again, with the Bearcats separating themselves with a 10-3 run over the next few minutes.
Williams also made big plays on the offensive glass, which was really a team-wide exercise. UC had 10 offensive rebounds in the second half while Temple had 10 total. Over the course of the entire 40 minutes of the game, the Bearcats just kept giving themselves additional opportunities and denying them to the Owls. They had a 46-22 edge on the glass and outscored Temple 17-0 in second chance points. Led by Brooks’ four offensive boards, six different Bearcats had at least two and just as many had at least five overall boards.
Meanwhile, free-throw shooting was poor on both sides, but because the Bearcats were more aggressive in getting inside, they ended up making 25-of-37 at the line (67.6 percent) compared with a 19-of-31 effort from the Owls (61.3 percent).
This game really looked lost for the majority of it but the Bearcats stayed calm and fought their way back. They used their superior rebounding ability to turn the tables and earn a quality win against a solid Temple squad.
Best Individual Stat Line - Eliel Nsoseme
Nsoseme didn’t score like Cumberland but he played a huge role in the second half rally. He finished with seven rebounds in only 16 minutes and also had a key blocked shot as the Bearcats came back from the brink. The box score might not show how important Nsoseme’s contributions were, but let this paragraph stand as a testament to that fact.