LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Aaron McKie wasn’t going to lie.
The first-year Temple basketball coach came into Thursday’s opening round of the Orlando Invitational undefeated after winning his first four games, and while he likely didn’t figure he was going to go undefeated this season, the reality of losing hit him hard.
The Owls scrapped and clawed their way against No. 5 Maryland at HP Field House, but the Terps were too much in the end, beating Temple, 76-69.
“This is my first loss, and it [stinks], and I didn’t really know how to respond to it,” McKie laughed. “At the end of the game I’m just looking around, like it’s an NCAA Tournament game. It’s the last game of the year, and I didn’t know how to respond to it ... ."
What McKie did know was that he saw some positive signs in his team against the highly regarded Terrapins, and it gave him reason to be encouraged.
The Owls played one of the top teams in the country down to the wire and had their chances late. They did so even with their top two scorers, Nate Pierre-Louis and Quinton Rose, struggling. The duo came in averaging a combined 30 points per game. Thursday they managed a total of 12 points.
“I’m not pleased by no means with the outcome of the game, but I told those guys that two of our best players didn’t have their best games and we were right there with a chance to win this game,” McKie said. “It got away from us probably with a minute-and-a-half left in the game, but we were there throughout.”
With Rose and Pierre-Louis struggling, Alani Moore and J.P. Moorman stepped up. Moore had 22 points, which included hitting 6-of-10 three-pointers, and Moorman added 14.
“Our strength is on our numbers," McKie said. "One day it can be J.P. and Alani. It could be Dre Perry. It could be Nate and Quinton Rose. It could be a number of different guys that have to step up for us and be productive.”
The real test for the Owls, however, came on defense, and despite their game plan, Maryland’s Anthony Cowan was able to take control. Cowan, who was a backcourt teammate of Moore’s in AAU play in their younger days, lit up Temple for 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting (4-of-8 threes).
“He was the focal point coming into the game, and we wanted to try and pay as much attention to him as possible,” McKie said. “We obviously didn’t do a great job with that, because he was the difference in the ball game.”
Moore had seen that from Cowan, but that as teammates with DC Premiere.
“It’s always good playing against Ant,” Moore said. “We were real good [in AAU ball]. I can’t even say we lost too many games back then.”
Cowan said he and Moore were unstoppable.
“That was my teammate from 10-and-under to like 15-and-under, and we were one of the best backcourts,” Cowan said. “That’s been one of my good friends for a minute now, and to just see how everything goes full circle, we’re playing against each other in college now, it was fun to see.
“I knew he was going to try to go at me just like I was going to go at him. It’s always a competitive battle between us.”
Temple came out scorching the nets, hitting five of its first eight shots. The Owls ran out to a 16-7 lead, and then things went cold. They missed their next 10 field-goal attempts, as Maryland fought back with a 9-0 run to tie the game at 16-16.
“Give Temple a lot of credit -- they were shot out of a cannon to start this game," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "They made four threes in the first five minutes. We’re still getting used to teams coming at us because of our ranking … so we’re learning as we go.”
Rose had five of Temple’s first 8 points, but then the Owls’ second-leading scorer couldn’t find the rim, even clanging a three-point shot off the bottom of the backboard, wide right. He also shot an air ball on another three-point try late in the first half. He did give the Owls a boost with 1:09 left in the half with a steal and coast-to-coast dunk.
Pierre-Louis didn’t score for the first 23 1/2 minutes, shooting just four times and missing all of them. He finally broke the ice with a pair of free throws with 16:30 left in the game.
Moorman and Moore picked up the slack, scoring 10 points apiece in the first half, as Temple clung to a 34-29 lead at the break.
The Owls had their chances late, and were tied with the Terps, 62-62, with 3:36 left. A Cowan three-pointer broke the tie, and Temple never recovered, dropping into the losers’ bracket of the three-game tournament.