Temple Out-Uglies Houston, Upsets No. 1 Cougars

The Houston Cougars had three shots in the final seconds to remain the best team in the country. The Temple Owls successfully defended all three and upset the top team in college hoops, 56-55. Temple entered the game with an 11-9 record and a 19-point underdog on the road.

The Owls play a exasperating basketball brand. They shoot a ton of threes – almost 44% of their field goals coming in this game were from beyond the arc. They’re also missing a ton; On Sunday, they shot just over 31% on three-pointers, good for 300th in the country. Things were even heavier on Sunday: 24 of the Owls’ 45 shots were threes. They fired just one Little better than usual, making eight of them. (Part of this scenario is due to sophomore center Jamille Reynolds walked out with a broken thumb.)

Eight was enough. Although they didn’t score a field goal after a Zach Hicks three with 7:48 left, the Owls hung on. The winning run came on a Damian Dunn free throw with just over a minute left; he led all scorers with 16 points on 3-for-12 shooting. The Owls only made six two-pointers the entire game. I told you Temple plays maddening basketball.

Temple has bad losses – they lost buy games for Wagner (they lost a 15 point lead) and Maryland Eastern Shore (they were favorites at 15.5 points). But owls also have positive qualities. Although they shoot a lot from range, they often get to the line and shoot FTs well (they went 20 for 22 against Houston). They also play a pretty decent field goal defense; they give up a lot of second-chance shots and don’t force turnovers, but their defense forces teams to make bad shots.

Houston had a bunch of bad shots on Sunday. The Cougars had, essentially, their worst shooter of the year. They only touched 34% of the field, including only 33% on two points. Marcus Sasser, Houston’s efficient senior guard, scored just 12 points (he’s averaging 17; 11 days ago he scored 31 against South Florida). Jamal Shead averages five assists per game and is, per PaperCity, “essentially the ever-good Peyton Manning answer from this UH team.” He had just one assist on Sunday and shot 4-for-16 for 13 points. The Owls held off Houston’s methodical offense, one of the best in the country.

But Houston’s big weakness, which Temple had nothing to do with, showed up again on Sunday. The Cougars shot just 11 for 21 from the free throw line. It was essentially the difference in the game: Temple made his free throws (including two after Houston coach Kelvin Sampson received a technical). Houston didn’t. The Cougars are shooting just 70.3% from the line after Sunday’s loss; it is 211th in the country at the time of publication. A team that misses a lot of threes can be infuriating. A team that misses a lot of free throws is still exasperating. Sampson better hope his team can hit a few more FTs by March.

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