Dalton Pepper had a career-high 33 points
Down 19 points in the second half to Cincinnati, ranked 15th in the country, the Temple men’s basketball team looked very much like a squad which has yet to win in the new year or in its new league.
But then Dalton Pepper caught fire, pouring in 27 second-half points on his way to a career-high 33 only to see a questionable foul with seven seconds remaining lead to another defeat.
Down 19 points in the second half to Cincinnati, ranked 15th in the country and undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, the Temple men’s basketball team looked very much like a squad which has yet to win in the new year or in its new league.
But then Dalton Pepper caught fire, pouring in 27 second-half points on his way to a career-high 33 and tied the game on a 3 with 36 seconds left – only to see a questionable foul on Anthony Lee with seven seconds remaining lead to another frustrating defeat.
The Owls fell, 80-76, to the Bearcats (19-2, 8-0) after Sean Kilpatrick (29 points) hit two free throws when the Temple center was called for a foul on the floor with seven seconds to play.
Temple had one last possession but after Pepper inbounded to Will Cummings, the point guard sped up the floor and dished to freshman Josh Brown, who was stuffed on a drive by Jermaine Sanders.
The ball dropped in the hands of Cincinnati’s Kevin Johnson, who hit two foul shots with 0.5 seconds left to seal the victory as the Owls fell to 5-13 overall and 0-7 in conference.
Asked if it felt like the same old song and dance, Temple coach Fran Dunphy quipped he was “neither singing nor dancing.”
It seemed odd to have the red-hot Pepper inbounding the ball and thus not an option for the final shot, but Dunphy said the guard was supposed to trail the play with Cummings possibly passing back to him for a winning attempt.
“I didn’t want to get Pep out on the floor because they would deny him right away,” said Dunphy. “I didn’t think (Cummings) would have that much of a fast pass to the basket. If Pep was right on his heels, he could flip it back to Pep and that’s what I hoped would happen. We were hoping at some point Pepper would wind up with the ball. Obviously Will saw Josh and Josh thought he saw something.”
Cummings said he was looking to penetrate and saw Brown open on the wing.
“Either get to the rim or find a kickout, and that’s just how it developed,” said Cummings.
Pepper bounced back from a 1-for-7 first half to shoot 9-for-14 in the last 20 minutes, including 7-for-9 on threes.
“They did a good job of finding me, Will, Josh, Q(uenton Decosey) kicked it out to me and I was feeling it,” said Pepper. “It felt like everything I was shooting was going in.”
Said Dunphy: “He was a superstar in the second half. He propelled us back into the game. He was on fire. We probably should have found him a couple more times in the latter part of the game and did not, but it was very impressive.”
Temple trailed by 19 points with 14:07 to play and was still looking at a 14-point deficit with 6:56 remaining before the Owls went on a 19-5 run. Cincinnati played most of the game without forward Justin Jackson, who sprained an ankle six minutes into the game and did not return.
“Give Temple a lot of credit, Dalton Pepper played as well as you could possibly play for a guy at his position in the second half,” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. “They’ve lost a lot of close games, but they continue to play hard and that’s a credit to coach Dunphy and what he stands for. At no point was I confident the game was over.
“We lost (Pepper) a few times, but once he got hot, you have to give him all the credit. You have to respect his performance.”
In the end, the best performance of Pepper’s career wasn’t enough. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling he’s had to get used to.
“Every game this year except for the last one (against Connecticut) we could have won, felt like it was our day,” said Pepper. “It’s just the way our season’s going. … Just one or two bounces.”