PHILADELPHIA — To beat Southern Methodist, all Temple had to do was outrebound the top rebounding team in the American Athletic Conference. And they had to do so without the conference’s top rebounder.
Easier done than said.
It was Temple that looked like the dominant rebounding team on Sunday afternoon at the Liacouras Center, crushing SMU on the glass en route to a 71-64 victory over the No. 23 Mustangs.
“Feels good to finally pull one through,” said Temple senior Dalton Pepper, who led all scorers with 24 points. “They didn’t really have a lot of second-chance opportunities, and I think that was the biggest thing that we did, was keep them off the glass.”
SMU came into play as the best team in the AAC and 18th in the country in rebounding margin, pulling in an average of 6.6 rebounds per game more than its opponents. Temple, on the other hand, was the worst in the AAC, giving up 3.3 rebounds per game to opponents.
To make matters worse, starting center Anthony Lee’s status was
up in the air entering play, as the junior forward injured his knee in the Owls’ last game. Lee dressed but did not play, with freshman Mark Williams earning his seventh career start instead.
Williams filled in admirably, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds, part of a solid team effort by the Owls to keep the Mustangs off the glass. Sophomore center Devontae Watson led the team with eight rebounds to go along with eight points as Temple finished with a 38-25 advantage in the rebounding column.
“Rebounding is about effort any way you look at it; it’s got to be a group doing it,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “Their effort was so much better than ours.”
Pepper led four players in double figures for Temple, as junior guard Will Cummings and sophomore wing Quenton DeCosey added 13 apiece. SMU was led by sophomore forward Markus Kennedy, who had 18 points; sophomore guard Nic Moore added 15 and senior guard Nick Russell dropped in 10.
The Mustangs certainly helped the Owls out down the stretch, missing seven free throws in a row at one point with under four minutes to play. Temple, on the other hand, took advantage of its opportunities at the stripe, going 21 of 25 (84.0 percent) to SMU’s 14 of 26 (53.8 percent).
Though a few of those points would have certainly been useful for the Mustangs, their coach did not let that be the reason that his team fell to 4-4 on the road in conference play.
“It wasn’t the free throws, we got outcoached,” Brown said. “They controlled the tempo, they made all the effort plays, things that you hope your team does.”
Temple (7-17, 2-10 AAC) beat a ranked team for the first time in six attempts this season, though there had been a few close calls. The Owls hung tough with then-No. 24 Memphis on Jan. 11 and in a pair of games against No. 19 Cincinnati in the same month, though it looked less impressive in losses to No. 9 Villanova (90-74) and No. 13 Louisville (82-58) in recent weeks.
Afterwards, Pepper mentioned that Dunphy promised a win in the rematch following the defeat down in Texas.
“I just felt like at the time, that we were going to be OK at some point, and I just threw that thought out to our guys,” Dunphy said. “I’m a big believer in ‘our turn,’ and I think today was our turn to come together.”
Early on it looked like SMU (20-6, 9-4) could run away, like it did in a 23-point victory over Temple on its home court just 10 days prior. An 11-2 start saw the Mustangs get to the bucket at will, but the Owls did not fold.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Williams, who entered the game just five of 24 (16.0 percent) from beyond the arc, helped the Owls take their first lead of the game, 25-24, at the 4:21 mark of the first half. They went into the half with a 34-30 advantage.