For 13 years Fran Dunphy has been calling the shots at Temple, ever since he left the Ivy League comforts of Penn to replace legendary John Chaney. That means he’s survived six Owl football coaches, starting off with Al Golden, through the unforgettable 17-day Manny Diaz era, with another soon to follow.
Beginning with his second season when Dionte Christmas, Mark Tyndale & Co. knocked off No. 20 ranked Xavier on their way to a 21-13 season, Dunphy’s teams have beaten a nationally ranked opponent every year.
The latest came on Wednesday night when 15-0 Houston came to town with its No. 17 ranking and left 15-1 after the Owls survived a harrowing finish on a last-second charging call to pull off the 73-69 upset. The upset victory makes them 12-3, 2-1 in the rugged American Athletic Conference.
Having already announced his attention to leave after this season and hand the reins over to longtime assistant, Aaron McKie, who starred for Chaney in the ’90s, Dunphy’s players seem intent on sending him out on a high.
Of course, the coach would rather focus on the moment than anything beyond that. "It’s real important for us," said Dunphy, after Temple got 22 points from Quinton Rose and 18 from Nate Pierre-Louis to avenge last season’s 80-59 Houston blowout here.
"It puts us at the top of the league for now. The league’s strong top to bottom. South Florida (Temple’s next opponent) is playing terrific basketball. We’ve got to be ready for them."
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The Owls were certainly ready for the Cougars, who jumped out to a 15-0 start on them last year and never looked back. To make sure there was no repeat, they made it a mission to shut down Houston’s top scorers, Corey Davis, and Armoni Brooks.
Mission accomplished. Davis and Brooks were held to 11 and five points respectively, shooting a combined 6-for-23, 4-for-14 from 3-point range.
"Our main emphasis was to look for Brooks and Davis," said center Ernest Aflakpui whose six points and seven rebounds came secondary to the charge he took from Davis on the game’s final possession. "We made sure to close out on them and did a good job."
After Houston battled back from a 39-32 halftime deficit to take the lead, Temple responded with a 13-2 run of their own, J.P. Moorman’s corner three-pointer making it 65-56 with 7:27 left. The Owls made just one basket the rest of the way, however, as Houston tightened up its defense.
But when Pierre-Louis came out of a scramble with the ball and fed Rose for a breakaway dunk they had some breathing room, 71-66 with 1:13. They needed every bit of it after Davis buried a long three with 37.3 seconds left, then Temple turned it over on a shot clock violation 30 seconds later.
That gave the Cougars the ball back and a chance to either send it into overtime or go for the win. Seeing Davis crash into Aflakpui while the ball went in the basket as time expired, had everyone holding their breath until the ref signaled offensive foul.
Naturally, the opinion was divided on the call. "I thought it was a block," said Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, who earlier was hit with a technical for throwing his tie to the floor in frustration. "But it would’ve been the first time I was right all night."
"I knew I was outside the arc," said the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Aflakpui, who’s made it a specialty drawing charges. "I was standing there a second before he arrived."
Dunphy, on the other hand, wasn’t sure about the call.
"We didn’t defend that very well, so he [Davis] was able to drive to the rim," said Dunphy, whose club is off to its best start since 2011 and seems well on their way to earning an NCAA Tournament bid. "I’m happy he [Aflakpui] drew the charge and was hoping there was no more time left."
After replay and a clock reset to .6 second, Pierre-Louis was fouled and sank both free throws to ice it, assuring Dunphy and Temple had another top-25 victim for the 12th straight season.