NEW YORK — After originally looking like it would get blown out early, Temple fought though the roughest of starts but couldn't quite finish the deal. Trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half and leading by four in the second, Temple couldn't stop a late-game surge by VCU during Monday's 57-51 loss to the Rams in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center.
Temple (4-1) will meet California in Tuesday's 5 p.m. consolation game. Cal was an 82-79 loser to St. John's in the other semifinal. VCU (4-0) and St. John's will play in the 7:30 title game.
"We weathered that storm, which I was very proud of," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "It would have been a great victory for us, given where we were, but now we have to come back and play a good California team in a huge game.
Temple scored seven unanswered points to take a 48-44 lead.
J.P. Moorman began the run with a jumper, Quinton Rose made consecutive baskets and Ernest Aflakpui hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5:31 left.
VCU would come charging back. The Rams closed the game on a 13-3 run. The killer basket was Marcus Evans' step-back three-pointer with 32 seconds left that increased the Rams lead to 55-51.
"He was terrific, some of the plays he made were absolutely exceptional," Dunphy said of Evans, who had a game-high 21 points. "That last jumper he made to put them up four was a huge play.
Temple then missed two threes on its next possession by Shizz Alston and Rose. VCU had survived.
The Owls shot 4 for 28 from beyond the arc and 7 for 15 from the foul line.
Temple was led by 6-foot-4 sophomore Nate Pierre-Louis, who had 11 points, eight rebounds and six steals. Fellow sophomores Moorman and De'Vondre Perry scored nine points.
Pierre-Louis rattled the Rams with his defensive pressure.
"We faced adversity and our backs were against the wall and I thought we did a pretty good job handling it," Pierre-Louis said.
VCU threatened an early knockout punch. The Rams scored the game's first 11 points and jumped to a 19-2 lead. Temple slowly began coming back and cut the lead to 26-21 on Perry's three pointer with 1:30 left in the half.
The Owls would trail 28-21 at intermission.
Pierre-Louis kept Temple in the game on both ends of the court in the first half. He had a team-high seven points in the first half and also added five steals.
VCU came in with a game plan to stop Alston. Entering the game averaging 21.5 points, the 6-foot-4 Alston was held scoreless in the first half, missing all six shots. He finished with six points on 2 for 14 shooting.
VCU often used a second weakside defender to double team Alston.
Rose, Temple's second leading scorer, recorded just two first half points. Rose has great quickness, and can get his shot whenever he wants, but his perimeter game remains a work in progress.
He shot 1 for 9 in the first half and 0-3 from three-point range. Rose finished the game with eight points on 4 for 15 shooting.
Considering that Temple's two leading scorers combined for two first half points, the Owls had to feel fortunate to be down by just seven.