Temple took a step back with loss at East Carolina

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Temple head coach Fran Dunphy.

Although Temple is still mathematically alive to earn a bye in the American Athletic Conference tournament, the Owls' hopes took a major hit Wednesday in a 78-64 loss at East Carolina.

Temple (14-13, 5-9 AAC) led, 38-37, at the half only to be outscored by 41-26 over the final 20 minutes.

The top five teams will earn byes in the tournament, which will begin March 9 in Hartford, Conn. Connecticut entered Thursday's home game against Memphis occupying the fifth spot with a 7-5 AAC mark.

In the second half, Temple shot 10 of 32 from the field (31.3 percent), 4 of 15 from three-point range, and 2 of 3 from the foul line.

ECU (12-14, 4-9) hit 16 of 33 from the field in the second half (48.5 percent), 3 of 10 from beyond the arc, and 6 of 9 from the foul line. Temple committed eight of its nine turnovers in the second half.

"We had open looks and couldn't finish, and our defense wasn't where it needed to be," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said in a postgame phone interview.

Temple's 6-foot-10 junior, Obi Enechionyia, continued to struggle. Enechionyia was saddled with three first-half fouls and ended with six points in 21 minutes, shooting 1 of 4 from the field.

"That third foul really hurt us, and you can't get that foul in the first half," Dunphy said.

Despite ECU's record, Dunphy had said the Pirates would be a difficult opponent. "I was worried about this team because they have good players and they have had some close losses," he said.

However, ECU was coming off one of its poorest performances, a 64-57 loss at South Florida. That was South Florida's first AAC win, and it snapped the Bulls' 12-game losing streak.

The Pirates played like a team looking to avenge a poor loss, and it was a much different ECU team from the one Temple beat, 81-62, on Jan. 7 at the Liacouras Center.

Temple was led Wednesday by 6-8 senior Mark Williams, who scored 15 points in 20 minutes off the bench.

The Owls remain in eighth place in the AAC with four regular-season games left. If the conference tournament began today, Temple again would face East Carolina, the current ninth-place team, in the opening round.

The Owls will play their next three games at home, beginning Sunday at 4 p.m. against Connecticut.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard