No. 15 Cincinnati Bearcats edge upset-minded Temple Owls 80-76

(Howard Smith/USA Today)

2014-1-26 shaquille thomas

Cincinnati’s Shaquille Thomas drives for two of his fifteen points in the Bearcats victory.

The Cincinnati Bearcats came into their contest against the Temple Owls winners of their last eleven games. The Owls were looking to post their first victory since December 21st — a span of seven games. Temple put their injury woes and 5-12 record to the side, giving the ranked Bearcats a scare before falling 80-76.

(Howard Smith/USA Today)

Jan 26, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls guard Dalton Pepper (32) shoots a jump shot during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Liacouras Center. Cincinnati defeated Temple 80-76. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Dalton Pepper’s shooting brought the Owls back from a 19-point deficit.

Getting caught in a firefight against the Temple Owls (5-13) was a troubling thought for University of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin all week. The Bearcats (19-2) blew a 19-point lead in the second half as Temple senior guard Dalton Pepper put on one of the great shooting efforts this season. Cincinnati needed a defensive stop sandwiched between four free throws to secure their twelfth victory in a row.

“When you live in Cincinnati and you’ve been in the same league as Louisville for a long time, you don’t look to the next game. I have some veteran guys and they were focused on Temple, they understand Temple has some good players. One thing about kids, especially veterans is they respect one another’s talents and they know these guys can score the basketball. They’re a little shorthanded, but they realize Temple is a basketball team that can beat us.”

(Howard Smith/USA Today)

Jan 26, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats forward Justin Jackson (5) tries to get up after being injured during the first half against the Temple Owls at the Liacouras Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jackson injured his ankle in the opening minutes of the game and did not return.

Just six minutes of the contest, it was Cincinnati who was left shorthanded when forward Justin Jackson injured his ankle and did not return. Cronin provided no further information of his status after the game. Sophomore Shaquille Thomas stepped up with 15 points. Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick — who scored a season-high 29 points paced the Bearcats for the first half with an impressive offensive display from three-point range and drives to the basket. Pepper was the offensive catalyst for the Owls – who despite shooting well from the field and the free throw line trailed at the half 36-26.

Cincinnati opened up their biggest lead with 14:09 remaining. From that point on, the Owls began to slowly chip away, mounting a 12-1 run led by Pepper — who scored 27 of his 33 points in the second half. His last three was well-defended and tied the game at 76 with 36.9 seconds remaining. Sean Kilpatrick was fouled with 7.2 seconds remaining and sank both free throws to give Cincinnati an 78-76 lead.

The Owls final bid for an upset was thwarted when Jermaine Sanders blocked Josh Brown’s shot attempt and Kevin Johnson dropped two more free throws to ice the game for Cincinnati.

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was once again on the losing end of a close game, but remained confident his players were learning a valuable, yet bitter lesson.

“Hopefully, they’re very disappointed, but I think there is a coming of age and this another one of those times. It’s Josh Brown playing as a freshman and getting a lot of minutes. It’s Quenton Decosey playing really good defense, so there is a lot of growth left in us and that’s the hope. We have twelve really tough games left beginning this Wednesday against Rutgers.”

There was no consolation for Dalton Pepper — who tied a Liacouras Center record for a Temple player with seven three pointers. “The way the season is going, one bounce here or there could be the difference.”

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