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Temple falls short against SMU

After beating the nationally ranked Mustangs last season, the Owls are unable to repeat the feat this time.

LAST FEBRUARY, an SMU team that was ranked 23rd made its first trip to the Liacouras Center and lost by seven to Temple, which uncharacteristically struggled its way through the inaugural season of American Athletic Conference hoops.

It's the game that might have kept the Mustangs out of the NCAA Tournament.

Wednesday night, former Sixers coach Larry Brown brought his guys back to North Broad Street for a matchup between two of the teams jockeying for early position behind first-place Tulane, which was picked to finish last in the preseason poll.

And for the longest while, it looked as if the Owls would do it again to the man who wants only to play the right way.

But the Owls, who on Saturday couldn't hold on to an 11-point, second-half lead against visiting Tulsa and suffered their first loss in nearly a month, this time let a 13-point advantage get away in the closing 18-1/2 minutes and got beat, 60-55.

"There's no reason we should be losing these games," said Jesse Morgan, who led the Owls (12-6, 3-2) with 15 points, 13 more than he had Saturday. "We just have to play hard for 40 minutes, find a way to close these games out.

"We let up sometimes. We've got to push it."

The Owls lost senior lead guard Will Cummings in the second half Saturday with a lower-leg injury. He didn't start this one, yet did play 27 minutes on mostly guts, finishing with five assists, two steals and one point.

"He wasn't himself, but he did a great job as a leader, showing who he is and playing through it," Morgan said.

Added coach Fran Dunphy: "He tried his best to give his maximum effort. He did a pretty good job at the defensive end."

The Mustangs (13-4, 4-1), the only AAC team to receive votes in the latest Top 25, have now won 11 of their last 12.

"Last year, we came here and took it for granted," Brown said. "We thought we'd win just by showing up. I don't enjoy these games. I have so much respect for Fran. I just wanted it to get over. I did see that Aaron [McKie, the Temple assistant whom he coached in the NBA Finals] outdressed the head coach. That pissed me off a little ...

"Since I've been here, we haven't done something like this, come back against a quality team on the road. This was a big step for us.

"[Cummings] is one of the best players in our league. So that impacted [the game], for sure. One of our guys, Ryan Manuel [10 points in 33 minutes], was hurt [too]."

Philly's Markus Kennedy, the Villanova transfer, got 15 of his 21 points for SMU in the second half, when the Mustangs shot 52 percent. He went 9-for-11, mostly from close range, in 26 minutes off the bench. But it was his fallaway jumper from the right elbow that got the Mustangs within one with just over 3 minutes left.

A little over a minute later, top scorer Nic Moore, who hadn't done much until then, made a 15-footer to put SMU ahead. Quenton DeCosey tied it at 1:45 by making one of two free throws. Moore answered with a three-pointer from the right wing. And Kennedy, who missed the first 10 games because of academics, got a dunk at 36 seconds off a great save underneath the basket from Sterling Brown.

The Owls never got closer than four.

On Tuesday, SMU practiced at Villanova, where Brown used to spend a lot of his time watching the Wildcats practice when he was between jobs. And Kennedy got a chance to talk with his former coach.

"Jay [Wright] told him the only thing that really matters is winning," Brown said. "Usually when we go back to someone's home, I start him. But he said he didn't want to change anything. He got to see his sister play."

Once Temple's big men got in foul trouble, Kennedy was able to exert himself. The Mustangs, who had a dozen more rebounds in the second half (and 10 more overall), had 16 more points in the paint and seven more on second chances. And the Owls missed their last eight from the arc, getting only 16 points in the final 18:43. They got to the foul line four times after intermission, all in the closing 1:45.

Moore, who had 10 points, five below his average, and seven turnovers, still made it happen when it mattered.

"He's capable of doing that," Brown said. "I think that was the first time he looked at me. He was trying to do a lot of things by himself early. When it's late, special players have to step up."

Devin Coleman had a season-high 10 points in 14 minutes for Temple. But Jaylen Bond, who's probably their best player, scored only seven on five shots.

"I'm not sure [what's gone wrong]," said Bond, who drew his fourth personal with 5:38 to go and acknowledged that he cramped up in the second half. "At the end of games, we have to make better decisions.

"[Kennedy's] a great player, but we let him get easy position on us. I wasn't as aggressive as I should have been."

The Owls will play four of their next six on the road, starting Saturday at Cincinnati (11-4, 2-1).

"It's a hard stretch, no question," Dunphy said. "But that's the challenge."