Cincinnati, OH – Cincinnati’s 69-58 victory over Temple underscored a more important trend than the final score indicated; a tale of two teams going in opposite directions. The Bearcats won their ninth consecutive game to go 5-0 in the American Athletic Conference, while the Owls continued their slide and are winless in the conference (0-5). To Temple’s credit, they fought hard with an undermanned bench.
The Bearcats again relied on their “big 3” to secure the win. Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick recovered from a recent shooting slump to match a season-high 23 points, including 6-for-13 from behind the arc. Kilpatrick nailed two three-pointers (along with one from junior forward Jermaine Sanders) in a one minute span, to allow his team to pull-away. Senior forward Justin Jackson, coming off three consecutive AAC Player of the Week awards, notched another double-double (15 points/10 rebounds) and added six blocked shots. Senior forward Titus Rubles shook-off a mediocre first half by playing an inspired second half, en-route to an impressive double-double (13 points/12 rebounds).
Cincinnati took advantage of Temple’s lack of depth (only eight players dressed) and the absence of point guard Will Cummings (16.1 ppg), who was out with concussion-like symptoms, by pressing full court and playing relentless defense to create turnovers and take the Owls out of their offense. Temple was able to make a run at the end of the first half, by going to a zone defense, to tighten the score at 27-25 and stayed close for much of the second half, but the lack of bench strength (zero points from the reserves) ultimately did them in.
The Owls have been led all season by a quartet of players who are averaging more than 13 points/game, the only team in the country that can make that boast. Besides the aforementioned Cummings, Temple has received a remarkable performance from an unexpected source; 6’5” senior wingman Dalton Pepper, a 2011 transfer from West Virginia. Averaging no more than four points/game in any one season coming into 2013-14, Pepper has been deadly from the 3-point arc (44 percent) to lead Temple with a 17.5 scoring average. He can get the ball off in a variety of ways (off-dribble/from the spot/off of ball screens), and has made the most of his free throw opportunities (89 percent). He led the Owls in the contest 21 points, including 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.
6’5” sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey, who scored 17 points on the night, might be the most talented member of the Owl squad. Possessing a plethora of moves which allows him to score both inside and beyond the 3-point arc, DeCosey is averaging 16.1 ppg. Coach Fran Dunphy would like for him to concentrate a little more on the defensive end and develop greater floor-managing skills, but the sophomore has a very athletic frame and the talent to become an impact player.
The only real inside presence Temple has is 6’9” junior forward Anthony Lee. The lean, lanky athlete secured a double-double (14 points/11 rebounds) in the contest, and is averaging close to that on the season (13.9 ppg/9.5 rpg). A tenacious rebounder with the ability to convert on most put-backs, he can man-up to most opponents his size, but needs to be more proficient in blocking shots.
Coach Mick Cronin has to be pleased with the way his team responded after a lackluster first half and with their solid play to start the conference season, there is every reason to believe that the Bearcats can be dancing in March. Temple, on the other hand, would likely have to win the AAC tournament, with already having ten losses. However, there is an incredible amount of talent on this team; they just need to convert the talent into solid play and wins.
Deric McKamey is a Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.