PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Houston Cougars appear to be peaking at just the right time.
Behind a 24 points from TaShawn Taylor, they followed up their upset of No. 21 Memphis with a rare road win, topping the Temple Owls, 89-79, Saturday night.
Houston (15-14, 7-9 American) won its third game in a row and picked up only its third true road of win of the season.
“This was huge for us, it was huge,” head coach James Dickey said. “We had a big win on Thursday night, and I thought it was important with the short turnaround that we needed to be ready.
“I thought this was a big game for us to build on, because we need to play better on the road. We played better at Cincinnati and SMU, but we didn’t have anything to show for it, so we needed to get a win.”
Dickey’s team tied its season high for points in a game thanks to a blistering shooting performance. The Cougars made 35 of 52 attempts from the floor (61.5 percent) and 7 of 12 attempts from three (58.3 percent). They missed only six of their 22 shots in the second half. Taylor was 10 of 15 from the field.
Though it lost the turnover battle, 13-4, Houston dominated Temple inside, out-rebounding the Owls 36-23 and outscoring them in the paint 42-28.
“We got the ball inside, we took advantage in transition, and we got easy baskets,” Dickey said. “What we were more concerned about was doing a better job on Pepper.”
Dalton Pepper led Temple with 24 points on 9 for 20 shooting, but scored 18 of that 24 in the first half. Fighting through a cramp in his leg, he went over 16 minutes in the second without a basket, before a layup with 3:43 to play. That basket would spark a Temple comeback attempt that cut Houston’s lead to as little as five with 1:16 to play, but the Owls would get no closer.
“They were denying a lot,” Pepper said, “so it was tough to get open looks. They adjusted a lot in the second half.”
Houston took a 43-39 lead into the break thanks in part to massive run after a poor start. The Cougars trailed 7-0 and by as much as nine, 17-8, before breaking out on a 23-4 run during which Temple went 6:35 without a field goal. Down four to start the second, Temple scored 10 of the first 14 points coming out of the locker room to tie the game, 49-49, before Houston quickly rebounded with 12 of the next 14 to take a lead it would never relinquish.
“We had our opening run - the game of basketball is about runs sometimes - and they had their runs,” said Temple guard Will Cummings, who scored 18 points and tied his career high with eight assists. “There was a stretch where we started losing them in transition. They started getting a couple easy layups and couples easy threes, and that’s kind of their bread and butter. That’s how they beat Memphis the other day. So we tried to limit that, but we fell asleep sometimes.”
Defense has been a struggle all year for Temple (7-21, 2-14), which lost its fourth in a row and has dropped 16 of its last 18. The Owls’ 21st loss of the season is a new program record. Prior to this season, no team in the Temple history had ever lost more than 19 games.
Both Temple and Houston finish with games against Central Florida and South Florida before the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament tips off in Memphis on March 12.
“We’ve got an important game on Tuesday and another one on Saturday,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ve got a chance to be in our conference tournament. So we’ve got a lot of season left. We’re playing some really good teams. I think Houston’s playing some really good basketball here, as evidence by what they did the other night against Memphis.
“We just haven’t guarded well. … We’ve got to be much more solid in the half-court, and we’re not getting that done. Again, that’s on me.”
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