Temple Out-Uglies Houston, upset No. 1 Cougars

The Houston Cougars had three shots in the final seconds to remain the top team in the country. The Temple Owls successfully defended all three and upset the top team in college hoops, 56-55. Temple entered the game with an 11-9 record and as the 19-point underdog.

The Owls play one furious brand basketball. They shoot a lot of threes – nearly 44 percent of their field goals coming in this game have been off the arc. They are also missing a lot; Coming in on Sunday, they shot just over 31 percent on three-pointers, ranking 300th in the country. On Sunday, things were even three-heavy: 24 of the Owls’ 45 shots were threes. They shot only one small better than usual, making eight. (This scenario is partly due to sophomore center Jamille Reynolds been out with a broken thumb.)

Eight was enough. Although they failed to make a field goal after playing a Zach Hicks three with 7:48, the Owls held on. The winning run came on a free throw by Damian Dunn with just over a minute to play; he led all scorers with 16 points on 3-for-12 shooting. The Owls hit just six two-pointers all game. I told you Temple plays obnoxious basketball.

Temple suffered some heavy losses – they lost buy games Wagner (they blew a 15-point lead) and Maryland Eastern Shore (they were a 15.5 point favorite). But the Owls also have some positive qualities. Despite shooting a lot from distance, they get on the line a lot and shoot FTs well (they went 20-for-22 vs. Houston). They also play pretty decent field goal defense; they give up a lot of second chance shots and don’t force turnovers, but their defense forces teams to take bad shots.

Houston had some bad shots on Sunday. The Cougars actually had their worst shooting game of the year. They hit just 34 percent from the field, only 33 percent of them with two-pointers. Marcus Sasser, Houston’s efficient senior guard, only scored 12 points (he averaged 17; 11 days ago he scored 31 against South Florida). Jamal Shead averages five assists per game and is, per PaperCity, “essentially this UH team’s always right Peyton Manning.” He had only one assist on Sunday and went 4-for-16 for 13 points. The Owls contained Houston’s methodical offense, one of the best in the country.

But Houston’s big weakness, which Temple had nothing to do with, presented itself again on Sunday. The Cougars shot just 11-for-21 from the free throw line. This was actually the difference in the game: Temple made his free throws (including two after Houston coach Kelvin Sampson received a technical foul). Houston didn’t. The Cougars shoot just 70.3 percent from the line after Sunday’s loss; which is 211th in the country at the time of publication. A team that misses a lot of threes can be furious. A team that misses a lot of free throws is all the time furious. Sampson better hope his team can get a few more FTs by March.

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