By: Donovan Hugal
Things aren’t getting any easier for the Temple Owls (14-17, 6-12 AAC).
After closing out the regular season on a five-game losing streak, the Owls enter the AAC Tournament as the No.10 seed and will draw the hometown SMU Mustangs (19-11, 9-9 AAC) at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, TX on Thursday night.
This is the lowest the Owls have been seeded in the conference tournament since the AAC was formed in 2013.
Senior guard Quinton Rose is top-10 in the AAC in scoring (16.4 ppg), assists (3.5 apg) and steals (2.0 spg). Junior guard Nate Pierre-Louis is the only other player averaging double-figures for the Owls (10.9 ppg) and is fifth in the conference in rebounding (8.5 rbg).
However as a team, the Owls have struggled mightily on the offensive end during their five-game slide, shooting 36.46 percent from the field, 31.78 percent from three-point, and 65.93 percent from the free-throw line.
They shot a season-low 29.8 percent from the field in and 23.1 percent from three in their loss to Tulsa on March 4.
The Owls and Mustangs split the season series, with the Mustangs winning 68-52 on Jan. 18. The Owls rallied from a 19 point deficit to defeat the Mustangs in overtime by a score of 97-90 on Feb. 8.
The Mustangs lost five of their six final games, slipping to seventh place in the conference. They lead the conference in scoring with 72.9 points/game and have four players averaging 11 points or more.
“They shoot the ball really well,” coach Aaron McKie said. “Probably one of the better offensively efficient teams in the country. Statistically speaking they’re pretty much at the top of every offensive category in the conference. We gotta do a really good job of guarding the three-point line against these guys. They got off to a really good start last time we played these guys, they were shooting the ball really well, and that’s their calling card.”
McKie has his team focused on stopping sophomore point guard Kendric Davis. Davis is averaging 14.2 points/game and leads the conference with 6.7 assists/game. In the teams two matchups this year, Davis has scored 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting, and 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
“They’re a really difficult team to guard,” Pierre-Louis said. “They have a lot of options with four guys averaging double-figures, but it’ll be a fun game. We beat them at home and we did a really good job of locking in defensively and making timely stops. We gotta make sure we do that the very first five minutes and dominate the game on the defensive end.”
“This gives us another opportunity to punch our ticket,” McKie said. “Our guys are well aware of that. We talked about three portions of the season where you play preseason games, your conference schedule, and now you have your conference championships. All three give you an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, and we didn’t do that over the course of this year. Our record indicates that. But we’ve got a clean slate now. We dug a hole for ourselves, and it’s a tough road that we face and it starts with SMU.”
Tough road is right. If the Owls manage to defeat the Mustangs, they will face off with the No. 2 seed Houston Cougars (23-8, 13-5 AAC). In their only matchup this year on Jan. 7, the Cougars won 78-74. They allow the least amount of points in the conference at 62.1 points per game.
The Owls aren’t focused on Houston though. Their “sole focus is SMU” said McKie.
“If we don’t get past SMU then the season is over,” McKie said. “We’re preparing one game at a time.”
Rose isn’t worried about Thursday potentially being his last game in a Temple uniform. He’s just trying to value the rest of the time with his teammates and do his part to win a few games.
““I’m not really thinking about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just living in the moment and trying to buy another game.”
“We’re gonna shock the world,” Pierre-Louis added.
The rest of the Owl faithful hopes so too.