STORRS, Conn. — This was a case of Shizz Alston willing Temple in a game the Owls couldn’t lose without having their NCAA hopes taking a major hit. With Alston scoring a career-high 34 points, the Owls defeated UConn, 78-71, in an American Athletic Conference game at Gampel Pavilion on Thursday night.
Temple (22-8, 12-5 AAC) clinched a first-round bye in the AAC tournament with one game left. The Owls host UCF (13-4) in their regular-season finale and can still overtake the Knights for the third seed, depending on tiebreakers.
Alston shot 12-for-14 from the field, 4-of-5 from three-point range and hit all six free throws. Quinton Rose scored 20 and Nate Pierre-Louis added 13.
“I didn’t want to lose and want to get to the [NCAA] Tournament for Coach, better than anything I want to do in this world,” Alston said. “I knew we needed this game to get over the top, so I just played like it."
UConn (14-16, 5-12) was led by junior guard Christian Vital, who scored 26 points, while 6-foot-10 sophomore Josh Carlton added 21 points.
With the score tied at 60, Temple took the lead for good, going on a modest five-point run, which ended with the 6-4 Alston making a steal and scoring on a rare dunk to extend the lead to 65-60 with 4 minutes, 5 seconds left.
“That felt good,” Alston said about the dunk." I felt it a little bit when I came down, I am a little old but it felt good to get that momentum."
Alston scored 17 points in each half.
“He put us on his back for stretches in order for us to get our stuff together,” Rose said.
UConn got within 72-69 when Tyler Polley hit two of three free throws with 29.5 seconds left.
Alston, who entered the game as a 90.5 percent free-throw shooter, then hit both ends of a 1-and-1 on two straight possessions, making it 76-71 with 22.1 seconds left.
UConn then missed a three, Temple’s De’Vondre Perry got the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws for the Owls final points.
With 7:36 left in the game, UConn’s Alterique Gilbert suffered a facial injury. He stayed down on the court for about five minutes and was helped off. He did not return. That was a key loss for the Huskies, who were also without leading scorer Jalen Adams. The senior hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in Temple’s 81-63 win over UConn on Feb. 6
For Temple, the focus is now on the regular-season finale against UCF on Saturday. The Knights have won four in a row after Thursday’s 58-55 win over visiting Cincinnati. Before turning his attention to UCF, Temple coach Fran Dunphy allowed himself a moment to reflect on Alston’s performance, arguably the best of his career.