ORLANDO -- With all good intentions, it was not the way Temple wanted to open its American Athletic Conference schedule.
Against the University of Central Florida, which was favored in preseason polls to win the conference, the Owls could not prevent lapses and fell to the Knights, 78-73 ,in CFE Arena.
While the Owls valiantly kept the score close at times, Central Florida found ways to go on significant runs in the first half and during a critical portion of the second half. Nate Pierre-Louis' three with just over seven minutes remaining ended a 15-5 Knights run that gave them a 13-point cushion.
“I think it was a lack of focus on our part,” said Quinton Rose, who chipped in with 17 points. “Tough loss, but it will not be difficult to rebound. We’re not out of any game, and we never believe it’s ever over”
A combination of hitting 6-of-13 three-pointers in the first half and coach Fran Dunphy’s emphasis on man-to-man defense, kept the Owls in the game.
But down, 47-44, early in the second half, the Owls could not contain the streaking Central Florida offense. Shooting guard B.J. Taylor, the preseason pick for AAC player-of-the-year, hit a three and another basket in a 10-0 run. Another three-pointer by Pierre-Louis cut the score to 66-63 with just over four minutes remaining, but that was the closest the Owls got.
Rose’s three-pointer with 9 seconds left made it 76-73, but Taylor’s two free throws cemented the Knights' win.
Temple opened the game in a zone defense that enabled Central Florida to jump out to an early lead. Dominating in the paint, Tacko Fall, a 7-6 senior from Senegal, scored two early baskets, and junior Terrell Allen added a three.
Then, Dunphy switched to a tight man-to-man defense, and the Owls responded by hitting six buckets from beyond the arc. Threes by Pierre-Louis, Alani Moore, and Shiz Alston gave Temple a 1-point lead just past the halfway mark of the first half.
As quickly the Owls heated up, they cooled off. With Temple scoring only two points in the final seven minutes of the half, Central Florida went on a 14-2 run.