The Temple men’s basketball team is among the leaders of the American Athletic Conference, yet near the bottom in some key statistical categories. So how are the Owls doing it? And more important, can this model be sustained?

Entering Wednesday’s play, Houston and Cincinnati were 5-1 in the AAC. Houston’s lone conference loss entering Wednesday’s game against East Carolina was to Temple. Central Florida, Temple, and Memphis were 4-1 in the conference.

Temple (14-4 overall) will host Memphis (12-6) on Thursday night in a crucial AAC game for both teams. High-flying Memphis leads the AAC in scoring (84 points per game).

The Owls are last in the 12-team conference in field-goal percentage defense (.458) and three-point percentage defense (.361), 11th in blocked shots (2.4 per game), 10th in rebounding margin (-0.4), and eighth in three-point field-goal percentage (.326), scoring defense (70.6 ppg), and scoring margin (+4.6).

“Our shooting numbers aren’t that good, but we just fight and are hitting timely shots at end of games,” said senior guard Shizz Alston, who is averaging a team-high 18.9 points.

Timely shooting in late-game situations has indeed been a big factor. The Owls are 7-0 in games decided by four points or fewer.

The Owls also have helped themselves at the foul line. They lead the AAC in free-throw percentage (.740). More impressive, the Owls are second in turnover margin (+3.83).

Temple is also first in steals (9.2 per game), but one reason the Owls are eighth in scoring defense is that sometimes when gambling for steals, they have left opposing players open and teams have capitalized.

“I think a key is that we have turned people over at a pretty decent clip," said coach Fran Dunphy, whose team is collecting 15.4 turnovers per game, fourth in the AAC.

Temple's Quinton Rose applauding after the Owls forced a turnover by South Florida in the first half Jan. 12.
LOU RABITO / Staff
Temple's Quinton Rose applauding after the Owls forced a turnover by South Florida in the first half Jan. 12.

Still, this might not be sustainable if Temple doesn’t receive more scoring outside of Alston, Quinton Rose (16.6 average) and Nate Pierre-Louis (14.1). No other Owl averages as many as seven points.

“We can balance our scoring better than we have, and that will be the challenge as we go forward,” Dunphy said. “The longer the league play goes, teams will be trying to take out our top scorers.”

Temple is coming off a 77-70 loss to Penn that clinched at least a tie for the Big 5 title for the Quakers and eliminated the Owls from contention.

“We put ourselves in good position, but Penn just came out hungrier,” Alston said.

Those lapses can’t continue, as Temple will play its final 13 regular-season games against AAC teams. Among other things, the Owls will need to add scoring depth to remain among the contenders.