Temple Owls

No cupcake here: Temple barely survives feisty Villanova

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No cupcake here: Temple barely survives feisty Villanova

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Pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear an FCS team is visiting an FBS team on any given weekend?

Mismatch?

Blowout?

Cupcake?

Don’t tell that to FCS No. 6 Villanova. And surely don’t tell that to Temple, which got all it could handle and more while barely surviving the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).

A defensive struggle turned spicy late as Villanova’s fourth-quarter rally was snuffed out by a two-minute drive led by redshirt sophomore QB Logan Marchi and a 49-yard winning field goal off the foot of Aaron Boumerhi with a minute left, both of which propelled the Owls to a 16-13 victory over their rivals from the Main Line.

Temple improved to 1-1 on the young season after last week’s shellacking at Notre Dame. Villanova fell to 1-1 on the campaign.

It was far, far from pretty, but it was the first win in the head coaching career of Temple’s Geoff Collins.

“That’s a really good football team we just played against,” a relieved Collins said after the game. “There’s no doubt they should be ranked in their division — a really good team. They fought till the very end. I thought they had some really good second-half adjustments.”

Both teams slogged through this one for the better part of three quarters and change.

The only time the announced 35,117 in the crowd came to their feet in the first three quarters was when Marchi, who ended up with 274 passing yards on the day, executed a flawless eight-play, 75-yard two-minute drill that led to fullback Nick Sharga’s TD plunge from a yard out with a single second left in the first half to give the Owls a 10-0 lead.

On that drive, Marchi threw for 77 yards on five completions, including a tipped pass that was caught by Ventell Bryant for 15 yards, a 32-yard strike over the middle to Isaiah Wright and a 17-yard throw to a diving Adonis Jennings, who hauled in the fastball at the Villanova 1-yard line with :05 left on the clock.

Sharga scored on the next play.

It was an important cushion the Owls wound up needing in the end.

“We knew we had to move the ball down the field there and that’s kind of our offense, being able to do that and get on the ball,” Marchi said. “We executed those plays well. I’m not going to lie, we had a couple lucky tips there. The one to Ventell ended up getting tipped and he made a great play on that. Getting the ball to those players there is what we need to do.”

“We practice that every other day,” Collins said of the end-of-half scramble to the endzone. “We go ‘Mayday Alert.’ We get something going, we go full speed and try to get points.”

After an uneventful third, things blasted up more than a few notches in fourth.

Early in the final quarter, Villanova senior QB Zach Bednarczyk continued to tear up the Temple pass defense as he had all day long. But this time, the Owls finally broke.

Bednarczyk hit wideout Taurus Phillips in the middle of the endzone on a slant to make it a 13-10 contest with 10:12 left. Things were now officially itchy for the Owls, who had zero answer for Bednarczyk’s arm.

After the rushing attack headed by Matt Gudzak and Aaron Forbes spearheaded a 266-yard effort in the Wildcats’ win over Lehigh last week, it went for just a measly 20 yards on Saturday afternoon against the Owls.

But with the way Bednarczyk was carving up the Temple defense almost effortlessly through the air, who needed a rushing attack?

Bednarczyk went 27 for 41 for 382 yards and the touchdown to Phillips. The Owls were basically at his mercy, especially in the second half when he went 19 for 24 for 284 yards and the TD.

“He’s a lot faster than they give him credit for,” Temple defensive end Sharif Finch said of Bednarczyk. “He’s pretty elusive and he has a good arm. So I think they have a great quarterback. He handled his business today.”

It was an interesting dynamic that played out on the field for the Temple defense.

Last week, the Owls’ defense was scorched by Notre Dame's rushing attack to the tune of 422 yards and five touchdowns. It was the complete opposite story Saturday. Sure, Villanova isn’t Notre Dame, but Temple’s defense struggled miserably against the pass on Saturday.

But Collins was quick to give credit to what the Wildcats did.

“Their quarterback is really savvy,” Collins said of Bednarczyk and the Villanova passing attack, both of which haunted his team all day long. “He was able to be slippery and make plays. I give credit to them. “

The Wildcats continued to assert themselves and their momentum continued to grow in the fourth quarter to the point where a 34-yard Drew Kresge field goal allowed Villanova to tie the game at 13-13 with 3:29 left.

If things were itchy on the Temple sideline before, well, now a rash had officially broken out.

And it was up to Marchi, in just his second career start, to lead the offense late in an effort to snuff out the Wildcats’ upset bid.

“Guys were coming up to me on the sideline saying, ‘You got this, you got this,’” Marchi said. “In your head, it’s just like practice. You go out and you throw the ball where it needs to be thrown. You run the plays that need to run. The time difference changes the pace of the game, but it doesn’t change your mindset.”

Marchi then went out and engineered a seven-play drive that included a lovely one-handed grab by Bryant, who missed last week’s loss, for 29 yards that got the Owls into Wildcats’ real estate. Bryant led the Owls with seven grabs and 79 yards on the day.

But the drive stalled, putting the responsibility on the shoulders of sophomore kicker Aaron Boumerhi to hit from 49 yards out. He had nailed one from 44 yards earlier in the day, but had also missed wide left from 48 yards.

He stayed true and drilled a career-long field goal with a minute left to put the Owls up 16-13.

“I try not to think about the last kick. It’s a new kick now,” Boumerhi said. “I just wanted to put it through the uprights and help my team win. I knew what I did wrong on the first kick. I was just worried about correcting that.

“I was pretty nervous… It was the first time I ever had to make a crucial kick like that with the game on the line.”

But Bednarczyk and the ‘Cats still had a pulse. They had a minute left to punch Temple in the gut and force OT or even leave with the upset, just as they did in 2009 and 2003. Two of Villanova’s three FBS wins have come at the expense of the Owls.

And they drove into Temple territory as the clock trickled down. Bednarczyk hit Gudzak over the middle, but the RB was stripped by Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley and Finch recovered to save the day and wipe the sweat off the collective brow of the cherry and white faithful.

The slugfest was over. But much was learned. What exactly?

The ‘Cats are still a legit FCS threat.

And the Owls have a plethora of things to work on and bumps to smooth out if they want to be taken seriously in the AAC.

Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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Whether it was simply coachspeak or the dawning realization that his team now has only one entry point into the NCAA Tournament, Fran Dunphy made a short but forceful declaration following Temple’s 80-59 loss to Houston on Sunday.

“We’ve got to win every game we play from here on in,” the Owls head coach said. “That’s the only thing we can do.”

Indeed, at this point, anything short of a perfect run through the American Athletic Conference tournament — which begins on March 8th following the Owls’ final three regular-season games — will likely relegate Temple to the NIT or worse.

The Cougars (21-5, 11-3 American) made sure of that by completely dominating the Owls (15-12 7-8) on their home court to suck the life out of the Liacouras Center — and Temple’s fading NCAA hopes.

“We never let them breathe,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. 

Houston has now won five straight to join nationally ranked Wichita State and Cincinnati atop the conference, making it increasingly likely that only those three squads will represent the American at the Big Dance. 

Temple, despite a conference record hovering around .500, had been making a nice push to join the party thanks to a potent strength of schedule, a couple of impressive November non-conference wins over Auburn and Clemson, and a recent five-game winning streak that included an overtime upset of Wichita State.

But after losing to the Shockers in a rematch on Thursday, the Owls likely needed to win out and then win at least a couple of more games in the AAC tournament to have a realistic shot of an at-large NCAA berth.

Houston ruined that by scoring the game’s first 15 points and never taking its foot off the gas from there en route to Sunday’s lopsided win.

“I think we came out really flat,” said Nate Pierre-Louis, who led the Owls with 13 points after watching the poor start from the bench. “I think we came out underestimating them. And they came out guns blazing, making everything. If we want to push forward, we can’t start out like that at all.”

Dunphy, who could be feeling some heat if Temple misses the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, had a hard time explaining what went wrong. But he didn’t make excuses, whether it was the team having trouble with its charter flight leaving Wichita (“You figure it out, suck it up and do a better job”) or bouncing back in general from an emotionally draining game there (“[Houston] had a great win at home against Cincinnati, so they were probably more susceptible to a letdown than we were”).

He also didn’t hide from the fact that there wasn’t enough effort from his players.

“We were a step slow all day long,” Dunphy said. “We had decent rest, we worked hard enough, [assistant coach] Chris Clark had us very well prepared for the x-and-o piece. We were just slow all day.”

In no way was that more magnified than in Houston’s 53-22 rebounding advantage, including a 17-5 edge on the offensive end. The Cougars' 53 rebounds matched a Liacouras Center record.

When asked about that, Sampson pointed out that he recently learned his team was among the shortest in the nation. Clearly, though, their hunger makes up for that fact.

“I guess we’re short but it never crossed my mind that it mattered,” the Houston coach said. “What’s that old saying? If size were important, what happened to the dinosaurs?”

Dunphy had a less philosophical (and probably more scientifically accurate) approach to the rebounding discrepancy.

“We were just not disciplined enough on the rebounding side,” the Temple coach said. “They played very well, and obviously we didn’t play very well at all.”

Sadly for Temple fans, the Owls have had a few games this year when they didn’t play well. They’ve also had games where they’ve looked like world-beaters, making this a particularly maddening season.

So whether the Owls close the regular season strong and make a run in the conference tournament or crash out in the first round is anyone’s guess, really. But even after Sunday’s brutal loss, sophomore Quinton Rose forecasted some optimism as the up-and-down 2017-18 campaign winds down.

“I think we’re at our best when we have our backs against the wall,” said Rose, who scored 13 on Sunday. “So I have no doubt we can make a good run."

Temple flops in biggest game of season

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Temple flops in biggest game of season

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In its biggest game of the season, Temple had its biggest flop.

With their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes dangling over a precipice, the Owls were smoked by visiting Houston, 80-59, on Sunday at the Liacouras Center.

Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis scored 13 points apiece for Temple (15-12, 7-8 American), which had won seven of its last nine coming in with the only losses in that stretch to nationally ranked teams (Wichita State, Cincinnati) on the road.

Corey Davis Jr. had a game-high 20 points for Houston (21-5, 11-3), which has now won five straight, including a massive win over No. 5 Cincinnati on Thursday, and is challenging the Bearcats and Shockers for the league title.

• It sounds cliché but Houston just seemed to want it more, outhustling Temple to loose balls and dominating on the glass by a ridiculous 53-22 margin. Not surprisingly, there were smatterings of boos from Temple fans when the final horn sounded.

• Considering the urgency of the game, Temple was very flat from the start with Houston’s Davis hitting two tough three-pointers to spark an 8-0 start for the visitors.

• The Cougars built their lead to 15-0 as Temple fans, standing until the Owls scored their first basket, grew impatient and implored head coach Fran Dunphy to change the lineup.

• Finally, Temple got on the scoreboard when Obi Enechionyia threw down a big dunk with 13:36 left in the first half. But fittingly, Davis hit a jumper just moments later and the red-hot Cougars kept their foot on the gas to increase their lead to 34-11 with 7:30 left.

• Houston led by a staggering 24 points at the final media timeout of the first half and took a 21-point lead into halftime after an Enechionyia three-pointer in the final seconds.

• Temple shot 31 percent in the first half, and it seemed even uglier with several of the Owls’ shots missing the rim entirely.

• The biggest first-half difference was rebounding as Houston held a 31-9 advantage and an 11-1 edge on the offensive boards. On one especially excruciating possession for Temple, Houston got a couple of offensive rebounds before Davis drilled a three right in front of the Temple bench.

• With Temple showing a little more life to start the second half, the Cougars promptly sucked it back out of them with star senior Rob Gray hitting a big three to put them up 47-24 with 16 minutes left.

• With 13 minutes left, the Cougars had doubled up Temple’s score (54-27), and then went ahead 59-27 on Davis’ sixth three-pointer of the game. Temple fans had very little cheer for from there. Houston’s a good team but it’s not easy to explain how the surging Owls could lose a game this badly to anyone at home.

• Houston actually had far more turnovers than Temple, 17-10.

• Temple lost at Houston, 76-73, back in December, and is now 2-7 all-time vs. the Cougars, including a 1-4 mark in Philadelphia.

• Houston is chasing just its second NCAA Tournament berth since 1992 and its first since 2010. The Owls, meanwhile, are in danger of missing two straight Big Dances for just the second time since Fran Dunphy took over in 2006. Thanks in large part to a great strength of schedule and their recent hot streak, the Owls were on Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” in ESPN’s bracketology but this loss — and a sub-.500 conference mark — will certainly drop them even further off the bubble.

• The best celebration of the day came in honor of Hooter the Owl’s birthday, with mascots from around the city coming to the Liacouras Center to pay their respects. But those vibes didn’t extend to the game as Temple dropped to 12-1 all-time on its mascot’s birthday.

• Temple plays its final home game next Sunday vs. UCF before closing the regular season with road games at UConn and Tulsa. But even if they win out, the Owls still likely need to win the American Athletic Conference tournament to get into the NCAAs.