Houston has been the most balanced team in the American Athletic Conference. In order to upset the eighth-ranked Cougars, Temple needed to match that balance.
The task was easier said than done. Scoring droughts and turnovers led to easy baskets for Houston.
Temple trailed by double figures most of the game and never lead at the Liacouras Center. The Owls fell, 68-51, to the Cougars.
“We played nowhere near what we’re capable of playing like,” head coach Aaron McKie said. “You don’t have to play a perfect game, but you can’t certainly come out and turn the ball over, open it up for them and also miss some assignments against these guys. That’s a tough recipe to try to beat a top-10 team in the nation.”
Two of McKie’s biggest keys entering the game were containing Houston on the offensive glass and limiting turnovers. The Owls (3-4, 2-4 AAC) hung around in both categories. Temple had one less turnover and two more offensive board than the Cougars.
It was the three-point shot where Houston (13-1, 8-1) gained separation. Marcus Sasser has made more threes than any player in the AAC and he showed why on Saturday, making contested and off-the-dribble shots. Houston had nine three-point field goals. Temple finished with four.
“I thought we got some good looks,” McKie said. “We just didn’t make the shots.”
Jake Forrester was one of the biggest players on the court against a smaller Houston team, and he played like it for most of the afternoon. Forrester scored nine of his 15 points in the first half. He added eight rebounds.
Houston adjusted in the second half by doubling Forrester. The doubles got the ball out of Forrester’s hands and made the guards do more of the scoring.
“Just putting my head down and hitting, so they know every time they come in here, all the teams in the conference know it’s going to be a battle down there,” Forrester said.
Khalif Battle is making his case for a starting spot. He finished with 14 points. His aggressiveness as a scorer and distributor will be a much-needed boost for Temple as he continues to work his way back.
“He’ll end up playing a lot of minutes for us,” McKie. “He’s got to be a two-way player for us. We just have to keep working him in and getting him in the flow of what we’re doing.”
Houston’s roster is full of a blend of experience and talent. That’s where McKie wants the Owls to be. Temple has played seven games and four have been against Southern Methodist and Houston. Those are arguably the two best teams in the AAC.
The toughest matchups are likely behind the young Owls, but offensive improvements are needed. The Owls return to action Tuesday at home against Tulsa.