Cincinnati tips off AAC play with Temple

Troy Caupain and the Bearcats will look to get off on a good foot in conference action.

Aaron Doster/Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin knows his team missed a few chances to bolster its resume against nationally ranked opponents. He hopes some adjustments will help his players continue to get better heading into conference play.

The No. 22 Bearcats are coming off another loss to a Top 25 team when they begin their American Athletic Conference schedule at home against a rested Temple squad on Tuesday afternoon.

Cincinnati (10-3) lost a close one to No. 11 Iowa State last time out, falling 81-79 on Dec. 22 despite rallying back from a 13-point deficit early in the second half to take a four-point lead late. The Bearcats missed their final three shots after Abdel Nader’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining gave the Cyclones the lead.

It was their third loss in six games – all against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, including two by two points.

"It’s a one-shot-and-done kind of game," said junior guard Troy Caupain, who scored 18 points. "It’s the kind of game you play in March, and we got a chance to play one early."

Picked to finish third in the AAC, Cronin said his players grasp what this time of the year means in terms of transitioning to conference play.

"The guys understand that it’s post-Christmas now," the Cincinnati coach said, according to the team’s official website. "We obviously left a couple on the table that we could have put in the bank as far as building your profile. But for us it’s just trying to improve. We’ve been trying to build a style of play with our offense and be a better offensive team this year. Along the way, we’ve had to clean some things up defensively. Defensive rebounding and turnovers are two areas where I know we can improve."

Cincinnati, which regularly boasts one of the nation’s best defenses, allowed a team to score at least 70 for only the fourth time in 51 games dating back to the 2013-14 season. The only time it happened last season was in a 75-59 loss to Temple on Feb. 10 in Philadelphia.

The Owls (5-5) have struggled to score this season, however, failing to reach 70 points in six of 10 games, including three early losses to Top 25 teams. They’ve also shot less than 38 percent in three of their last four games, with leading scorer Quenton DeCosey shooting 25.7 percent in those three.

The Bearcats are among the nation’s leaders in scoring defense (61.1 ppg) and opponent field-goal percentage (37.4) and six of their 13 opponents haven’t cracked 60.

While Temple has lacked an offensive punch, it has excelled at taking care of the ball. The Owls, who are picked to finish sixth in the AAC, lead the country in fewest turnovers per game, averaging 8.5.

They haven’t played since a 78-63 win over Delaware State on Dec. 19, when DeCosey’s 20 points led the way. Temple made a season-high 30 free throws on 38 attempts and is one of the nation’s top foul-shooting teams this month at 78.3 percent.

The Bearcats lead the all-time series with Temple 17-7, with a 7-1 mark in Cincinnati. They beat the Owls 84-53 at home last season, with Caupain, Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis – three of the four Cincinnati players averaging in double figures this season – totaling 33 points

Bearcats freshman Jacob Evans had 14 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots against Iowa State and was named the AAC Rookie of the Week on Monday.