PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Temple is in the midst of an unprecedented stretch of facing nationally ranked opponents.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise, then, that the losses continue to pile up for the Owls.
Shabazz Napier finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as No. 21 Connecticut denied Temple its second straight upset over a ranked team with a 68-55 victory Thursday night.
Temple is playing five straight Top 25 opponents – a first for the 120-year-old program. The Owls were blown out by No. 11 Louisville last Friday before upsetting then-No. 23 SMU on Sunday. They continue the stretch with road games against No. 22 Memphis on Saturday and Louisville next Thursday.
“I think, we’ve looked at it, we will have played 12 times against teams that have been in the Top 25 at some point during the course of the year,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “But that’s what you want. You want that challenge and we’ve been presented with that. It’s been a tough road to hoe but we’ve got more in store.”
Quenton DeCosey scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half for Temple (7-18, 2-11 American Athletic Conference), at one point scoring all of his team’s points for more than a 13-minute stretch. He grabbed a career-high eight rebounds.
The Owls shot just 33.3 percent from the field.
“I hang my hat on defense and we got defensive stops,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “To hold the team to 33 percent is damn good defense. And that’s how we’re going to win games going forward.”
Ryan Boatright added 14 points and DeAndre Daniels had 13 for the Huskies (21-5, 9-4), who won their fourth straight despite shooting 2 for 13 from 3-point range.
Napier, UConn’s leading scorer, helped ice the game down the stretch, shooting 11 for 11 from the free throw line for the game. The senior guard, who recorded his fifth double-double of the season, had an acrobatic three-point play to give the Huskies a 52-38 lead with 6:47 left.
The Owls went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal before DeCosey made a runner with 5:49 left to bring Temple within 52-40.
“After we got a couple of losses, we kind of got down on ourselves,” DeCosey said. “We stopped competing hard every night.”
The Owls looked poised for an upset bid early, taking an 18-12 lead midway through the first half after a three-point play from Mark Williams.
But the Huskies quickly went on an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. Boatright – who missed UConn’s 90-66 rout of Temple last month when he attended a funeral – led the surge, hitting a 3-pointer with Dalton Pepper draped all over him before throwing a behind-the-back pass to Daniels for a big dunk.
Later in the first half, Napier’s alley-oop pass to Amida Brimah resulted in an electrifying play to help the Huskies build an eight-point halftime lead.
Pepper broke a 6-minute scoring drought for the Owls with a 3-pointer with 16:50 remaining. A little more than one minute later Will Cummings drained a 3 to pull Temple within 40-35.
But the Owls were never able to get closer than that.
“We struggled to score against a really good defensive team,” Dunphy said. “Amida Brimah changed a bunch of shots but we had our share of open looks from the perimeter. Obviously, we didn’t do a great job knocking some of those down.”
Pepper, Temple’s leading scorer, finished with 11 points on 4-for-18 shooting Anthony Lee, who missed Temple’s last game with a knee injury, and Cummings added 10 points apiece.
Temple fell into a tie for last place in the American with Central Florida. The 18 losses match the most in one season in Dunphy’s 25-year head coaching career.
The Huskies have won four of their last five road games, which Ollie credited to the team’s guard play, defense and free throw shooting. And Thursday’s road win was especially meaningful for the Temple head coach, who played five seasons in Philadelphia with the 76ers.
“I love this city,” Ollie said. “They always cheered me on. The guy that didn’t get a lot of minutes but when I got in, there was always an ovation for me. I’ve always appreciated that.”