PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jarace Walker scored 23 points, Marcus Sasser had 13 and No. 3 Houston earned retribution against Temple with an 81-65 win on Sunday night.
The Owls failed in their bid for a second upset after they toppled the Cougars from No. 1 in the AP men’s college basketball poll with a 56-55 win last month in Houston.
The Cougars (22-2, 10-1 American Athletic Conference) are now poised to regain the top spot in the AP poll after a dominant second half in Philly. No. 1 Purdue lost to Indiana and No. 2 Tennessee lost to Florida, leaving an opening for Houston to ascend to No. 1 on Monday.
Khalif Battle led Temple (14-10, 8-3) with 24 points.
Temple has traditionally struggled to draw a full house at Liacouras Center, even for games that included city rivals or Top 25 teams or in seasons full of NCAA Tournament promise. The arena was packed Sunday, and Owls students swayed behind the basket from the opening tip. A T-shirt “white out” put some needed school spirit on display.
Temple gave fans plenty of reason to cheer with nine 3-pointers in the first half. Battle hit a 3 for a 26-25 lead, Zach Hicks hit one for a three-point lead and Damian Dunn buried one that sent the Owls into halftime ahead 37-33.
Unlike the first game, the Owls couldn’t take it to the wire.
Playing the biggest home game in coach Aaron McKie’s four seasons, the Owls wilted offensively and didn’t have the defensive chops to slow Houston. The Cougars burst the game open with a 13-0 run to open the second half and never let the Owls make a serious run the rest of the way.
Consider, in the first game, Temple did not make a bucket over the final 7:18 and was 5 of 21 from the field in the second half. Yet the offensive woes were offset by holding Houston to 34% shooting.
When Walker hit a 3 for a 56-48 lead Sunday with 8:47 left, it was good enough for one more point than Houston scored in the first game. They had 25 more in them.
Houston: Now has wiggle room in the AAC.
Temple: Losses to Wagner and Maryland Eastern Shore crippled Temple’s chances for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. A season sweep of Houston could created an opening. The Owls will have to win the AAC tournament for a piece of March Madness.
Houston hosts Tulsa on Wednesday.
The Owls play Wednesday at SMU.