Jesse Morgan has a penchant for hitting important shots, a skill that continued Saturday, but it was his request to defend a sizzling Connecticut player to open the second half that played a major role in keeping Temple's NCAA hopes very much alive.
At halftime, Temple trailed UConn by 37-32, and the senior guard from Olney told assistant coach Shawn Trice that he wanted to defend point guard Ryan Boatright, who had torched the Owls for 21 points.
Morgan, with help, shut out Boatright for approximately the nine minutes he played him to begin the second half. He later drilled a backbreaking three-pointer as Temple beat Connecticut, 75-63, in the regular-season American Athletic Conference finale for both teams in front of a sellout crowd of 10,206 at the Liacouras Center.
Temple's seeding in the AAC tournament will depend on the results of Sunday's noon game between Memphis and host Cincinnati. If Cincinnati wins, Temple (22-9, 13-5 AAC) will be the No. 4 seed and meet Memphis in Friday's 2 p.m. AAC quarterfinal in Hartford, Conn.
If Memphis wins, Temple will be third and play the winner of Thursday's game between Connecticut and South Florida. In that scenario, Temple would play at 9 p.m. Friday.
Has Temple done enough already to warrant an NCAA bid?
That remains to be seen, but a loss to UConn would have been damaging. Now the Huskies (17-13, 10-8), the defending national champions, almost assuredly must win the AAC tournament to secure an NCAA bid.
Temple point guard Will Cummings, who scored a season-high 23 points, opened up on Boatright but picked up two fouls in the first half. So Morgan made his defensive plea.
"I told Coach Trice I wanted to guard Boatright because Will had to run the offense," Morgan said. "It's a lot, and I just wanted to give Will a breather so he could play well like he did and help the team out as much as I can."
Trice confirmed that the 6-foot-5 Morgan made the request, but he added: "At some point we were going to put him on Boatright. I thought he gives a little more length and has the speed and quickness."
Morgan made it difficult for the UConn point guard to get the ball.
"I wanted to keep the ball out of his hands and make somebody else run the offense," Morgan said.
Temple, which committed just four turnovers, provided plenty of help against Boatright. After nearly nine minutes of guarding him, Morgan got a rest, and Josh Brown took over for most of the rest of the second half.
Boatright ended the game with 25 points.
"They all did a good job - Morgan, Cummings - and when [Boatright] came off a pick and roll, they were trapping, and they did a good job," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie, a former 76er.
Added Temple coach Fran Dunphy: "I think Jesse's length, speed, quickness, and his commitment today was really good."
Morgan later returned and gave the Owls separation for good when he hit a three-pointer that extended their lead to 63-55 with 3 minutes, 59 seconds remaining. He finished with 17 points, hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers, and three steals.
Quenton DeCosey scored 15 points, and Obi Enechionyia added nine points and five rebounds off the bench. Still, this was Morgan's day, at both ends of the court.