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Temple Out-Uglies Houston, Upsets No. 1 Cougars

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 22: Damian Dunn #1 of the Temple Owls is fouled by Terrance Arceneaux #23 of the Houston Cougars as he drives to the basket during the first halfat Fertitta Center on January 22, 2023 in Houston, Texas.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Cougars had three shots in the final seconds to stay the top team in the nation. The Temple Owls successfully defended all three and upset the top team in college hoops, 56-55. Temple came into the game with an 11-9 record and as 19-point road underdogs.

The Owls play an infuriating brand of basketball. They shoot a ton of threes—almost 44 percent of their field goals coming into this game were from beyond the arc. They also miss a ton of them; coming into Sunday, they shot just over 31 percent on three-pointers, good for 300th in the nation. Things were even more three-heavy on Sunday: 24 of the Owls’ 45 shots were threes. They shot just a little better than usual, making eight of them. (This scenario is, in part, because sophomore center Jamille Reynolds has been out with a broken thumb.)

Eight was enough. Though they didn’t make a field goal after a Zach Hicks three with 7:48 to play, the Owls hung on. The winning point came on a Damian Dunn free throw with just over a minute to play; he led all scorers with 16 points on 3-for-12 shooting. The Owls hit just six two-pointers all game. I told you Temple plays infuriating basketball.

Temple has some bad losses—they lost buy games to Wagner (they blew a 15-point lead) and Maryland Eastern Shore (they were 15.5-point favorites). But the Owls have some positive qualities, too. Despite shooting a lot from distance, they get to the line a lot and shoot FTs well (they went 20-for-22 vs. Houston). They also play pretty decent field goal defense; they give up a lot of second-chance shots, and don’t force turnovers, but their defense forces teams into bad shots.

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

But Houston’s big weakness, which Temple had nothing to do with, presented itself again on Sunday. The Cougars shot just 11-for-21 from the free throw line. This was basically the difference in the game: Temple made its free throws (including two after Houston coach Kelvin Sampson received a technical). Houston did not. The Cougars are shooting just 70.3 percent from the line after Sunday’s loss; that’s 211th in the country at publication time. A team that misses a lot of threes can be infuriating. A team that misses a lot of free throws is always infuriating. Sampson better hope his team can hit a few more FTs by March.

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