TEMPLE HAS BEEN playing basketball for a while. Before last night, the most anyone had ever scored against the Owls was 40 points. It had been done twice, by Muhlenberg's Gary Spengler in 1964 and two decades later by La Salle's Steve Black.
The record now belongs to someone else.
Aaric Murray, the Glen Mills product who spent his first two seasons at La Salle and is now a graduate student playing on his third college team, returned home and scored 48 at the Liacouras Center as Texas Southern held off the Owls on two Madarious Gibbs free throws with 6.4 seconds left, 90-89.
Tigers coach Mike Davis, who took Indiana to the final game in 2002, called it the best offensive performance he's ever seen from the sideline.
"But we expect that out of him," said Davis, who has six transfers. "It would be an unbelievable feat for some people. But not Aaric."
The 6-10 Mount Airy native, who was at West Virginia last season, was averaging 22.2 a game, 13th in Division I. In five previous games against Temple, he'd averaged 16.4, with a high of 22 (twice).
His Explorers lost each time.
"I wanted to play well and get a win," said Murray, who was 20-for-28 from the floor, which would be good numbers for Nick Foles. His night included back-to-back three-pointers midway through the second half, when he scored 27.
"Before the game, I was nervous. After the game, I was pretty excited. [Davis] told me, don't be nervous, play my game and let it come to me, and it would turn out like this."
It was the most points scored in the Liacouras Center, which opened in 1997, eclipsing the 43 by the Owls' Lynn Greer in 2002.
It almost wasn't enough.
The Owls (4-5), who trailed at one point by 63-49, were down seven with 3:37 left. And six at 47 seconds, after Murray's putback off a missed foul shot. But Will Cummings made a tough trey, Gibbs missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Daniel Dingle converted a follow and got hacked. He missed the freebie, but Anthony Lee was fouled getting the rebound. He made both ends of the bonus at 15.6 to give the Owls their first lead.
Ray Penn missed a triple at the other end, but Dingle was whistled for a foul going after the loose ball. In that situation, it probably could have gone either way. It didn't, and Gibbs made the first to get the second, which he also nailed. Cummings missed a three, but Dalton Pepper grabbed the board and tossed it in. Only problem was it came just after the buzzer. To make sure, the officials checked the replay monitor. The call stood.
"[Murray] was very impressive, obviously, but it wasn't much fun to watch," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "He came here wanting to make a statement. And he certainly did."
It was the most points by a D-I player this season. The Texas Southern record is 60, by two-time NCAA scoring champ Harry Kelly in 1983 (against Jarvis Christian).
"We just weren't as solid as we needed to be on him," Dunphy said. "We made some decent adjustments later in the game. We went zone a couple of times, and he burned us, as well. He ran the floor and beat us three or four times. And a few times, we had people back."
Texas Southern (4-7), the SWAC favorite, had lost two straight and seven of eight. The Tigers shot 59.3 percent from the field. D'Angelo Scott was their only other player to reach double digits, with 15.
The Owls, who shot 56.3 percent and trailed by only three at halftime, were playing for the first time since a one-point loss in South Philly to Texas on Dec. 7. On Saturday, they play LIU-Brooklyn. Then they get another 10-day break before their American Athletic Conference opener on New Year's at Rutgers.
Five players scored from 13 to 19, led by sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey's career best on 8-for-9 shooting. He's been in double figures every game. Lee had 18, to go with a team-high seven boards. He was also the one mostly asked to defend Murray in the post.
"I tried to contain him," Lee said. "What can you do? They were going to him every time, gave him a lot of opportunities to free himself up. You can do a lot, when you get that."
The last time Murray played Temple was the 2010-11 A-10 quarterfinals. It was his last game for the Explorers. He had 22 points and 11 rebounds in a 20-point loss.
"Right now, my life is great," said Murray, who is being mentored by former Sixers coach John Lucas at the center he runs near the school's campus in Houston. "I'm enjoying the game of basketball. It's a blessing that I've been able to do what I'm doing."
His previous career high was 33, earlier this year.
"He's the best big man in the country," Davis said. "This is the first game he hasn't had three or four people collapse on him. [Temple's] not a double-down team.
"As he goes, we go . . . I've adopted him as a son."