Temple made an emphatic statement toward punching its NCAA ticket. Hanging on the bubble for seemingly weeks, the Owls defeated No. 25 Central Florida, 67-62, on Saturday in their American Athletic Conference regular-season finale at the Liacouras Center.
"I think I am in, I think we are in,” said Temple guard Shizz Alston, who had a team-high 21 points. “I said if we beat UCF and finished out with no bad losses, I think we are in.”
The Owls (23-8, 13-5), who have won six of their last seven games, already have a first-round bye in the AAC tournament. They begin play in the quarterfinals on Friday in Memphis, Tenn. Temple earned the No. 3 seed and will play the winner of the game between No. 6 Wichita State and No. 11 ECU at 9 p.m. ET.
UCF, which entered the game with consecutive wins over ranked teams Houston and Cincinnati, is 23-7, 13-5 in the AAC.
What a going-away present this was for Fran Dunphy, who coached his final regular-season home game for the Owls. True to his nature, he didn’t want any pregame hoopla. Dunphy, who will be replaced by associate head coach Aaron McKie after the season, was introduced before the game and did receive a standing ovation.
Periodically, there were taped tributes to Dunphy from people such as 76ers coach Brett Brown.
The best tribute was the W.
Besides Alston, 6-foot-10 sophomore Justyn Hamilton came off the bench to score 13. Starters Quinton Rose and J.P. Moorman added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
A key was the defense of Nate Pierre-Louis, who held UCF leading scorer B.J. Taylor to eight points on 1-for-8 shooting.
Rose gave Temple a 54-52 lead with 4 minutes 12 seconds left when he scored on a driving dunk after hanging in the air. That dunk energized the crowd of 9,951, and was a game-changer for Rose.
“I was more engaged in the game after that,” said Rose, who was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw.
Temple went up, 56-52, when Hamilton, after getting an offensive rebound, scored on a short turnaround jumper with 3:24 left.
Later, Temple boosted the lead to 61-53 on an Alston basket with 1:18 left.
UCF eventually cut the lead to 62-59 on a three-pointer by junior Aubrey Dawkins with 19 seconds left. Dawkins, son of UCF coach Johnny Dawkins and a transfer from Michigan, exploded for a career-high 36 points. The 6-foot-6 Dawkins said he wasn’t feeling his best before the game and had been questionable, but obviously felt fine during the matchup.
After that three, Temple’s Moorman then hit two free throw with 18.7 seconds remaining, making it 64-59, but UCF’s Taylor was fouled by Alston taking a three with 12.1 seconds left.
Taylor made all three, but Alston answered with two free throws, making it 66-62 Temple with 11.7 seconds remaining. Dawkins then missed a three and the Owls’ win was secure.
UCF 7-6 center Tacko Fall was saddled with foul trouble and had just two points and five rebounds in just under 20 minutes. He didn’t block any shots but altered several.
Temple senior Ernest Aflakpui more than held his own against Fall.
“I thought Aflakpui really battled in the low post,” Johnny Dawkins said.
The Owls also forced 18 turnovers against a UCF team averaging 11.4 per game.
“I am shocked [at having 18 turnovers] but that is a tribute to them, they are very active, very long,” Johnny Dawkins said.
Afterward, Dunphy who had several former players attend, was much more emotional than usual. He is completing his 13th season at Temple after the previous 17 as head coach at Penn.
“Nobody should be that lucky," Dunphy said about his career. “I have been so fortunate over my career to be at two wonderful institutions in a great city. I have lived in the same house since 1984 and still coaching, and nobody in our business does that. So I have been very fortunate.”