Mick Cronin knew he stole one. The Cincinnati basketball coach seemed both relieved and proud of his team for fighting on a night that Temple appeared to once again be ready to pull its upset magic over a ranked team.
Entering this season, Temple had defeated a Top 25 at least one time for 10 consecutive years. Cincinnati, ranked 19th nationally, was primed to be the latest.
Cincinnati is highly regarded this season and is one of eight teams to appear in the NCAA tournament in each of the last seven years for a reason.
The Bearcats bring a mentally and physically tough presence and it showed in Thursday’s 55-53 American Athletic Conference thriller over Temple at the Liacouras Center.
What the fans saw was 6-foot-6 Cincinnati junior Jacob Evans launching a 16-foot jumper over 6-3 Josh Brown with 0.4 seconds left for the game-winner.
— Cincinnati MBB (@GoBearcatsMBB) January 5, 2018
Brown is Temple’s best defender and he actually played good defense on the play. It’s just that Evans made a great shot.
“I thought our defense was pretty good,” said guard Shizz Alston, who had 12 points. “Toward the end, we just didn’t get that one stop we needed.”
Cronin said he wanted to isolate Evans and the play worked to perfection. Still, the veteran coach had nothing but praise for the Owls.
“They were more physical than us for 35 minutes,” he said
The problem is that the game lasts 40.
“I thought Temple played unbelievably hard tonight; give them credit,” said Cronin, whose team is 13-2, 2-0. “[Temple had] 17 offensive rebounds, and played extremely physical basketball, on the backboard, 10 steals against us.”
The game also contained a rare technical foul on Temple coach Fran Dunphy, after a water bottle that was in his hand found its way onto the court. Dunphy said afterward the bottle slipped out of his hand. Cincinnati made one of two free throws on the technical.
“The bottle went out on the court, and I am usually pretty good about grabbing it, and this time I lost my handle,” Dunphy said.
Dunphy can only hope the season isn’t slipping away.
Temple (7-7, 0-3 AAC) has played an extremely tough schedule, with prestige wins over the likes of Auburn and Clemson, but the Owls own a four-game losing streak.
With 15 conference games remaining, including one more against Cincinnati and two against No. 9 Wichita State, Temple has plenty of work to do to get back in the NCAA mix.
The Owls have lost four in a row and life won’t get easier on Sunday when they visit Central Florida (11-4, 2-1), featuring 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall.