No. 15 Cincinnati beats Temple 80-76

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Sean Kilpatrick hadn’t scored in over 13 minutes, and No. 15 Cincinnati had just blown every bit of a 19-point second-half lead against Temple.

”I was just trying to get fouled,” he said. ”The time was running down, they switched the pick and roll and the big man was on me. I just drove at him.”

The big man was Anthony Lee, who picked up his fifth foul after catching Kilpatrick on the arm with 7.2 seconds remaining. Kilpatrick went to the line and promptly ended his scoring drought by making the game-winning free throws.

Kilpatrick finished with a season-high 29 points and the Bearcats (19-2, 8-0 AAC) staved off a Temple comeback to remain undefeated in the American Athletic Conference with an 80-76 victory Sunday.

The Bearcats are off to their best start since 2001-02 and their best start in league play since they went 8-0 in Conference USA that same season.

Temple attempted to tie the game again after Kilpatrick’s free throws, but Josh Brown’s layup was blocked by Jermaine Sanders with a half-second to play. Kevin Johnson added two more free throws for the Bearcats, who had their nation-best streak of holding 27 consecutive opponents under 70 points ended.

”At no point was I confident the game was over,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. ”I was concerned the whole time.”

Temple’s Dalton Pepper is the one who caused that concern. Pepper had a career-high 33 points, including the 3 that tied the game at 76 with 36.9 seconds left, for the Owls (5-13, 0-7), who have lost eight straight.

He scored 27 points in the second half, tied the record for the most 3s by a Temple player at the Liacouras Center with eight, and brought Temple all the way back from the 19-point deficit.

Cincinnati’s Justin Jackson played just 6 minutes after appearing to injure his leg. Cronin admitted that Jackson’s absence changed what the Bearcats were able to do defensively. For the final 20 minutes, they were unable to stop Pepper.

”He was a superstar in the second half,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said, referring to Pepper. ”He obviously propelled us to get back into the game. We were in a little bit of trouble. So he was on fire.

”We probably should have looked for him a couple more times toward the latter part of the game.”

On the Owls’ final possession, the one that ended in Sanders’ block of Brown, Dunphy tried to a draw up a play that featured Pepper as a late trailer, hoping he would be able to work his way to an open shot. Instead, point guard Will Cummings found Brown, who – along with Temple’s comeback chances – were rejected.

As a result, Temple (5-13, 0-7) remains winless in the American. The losing streak is its longest since the 1975-76 team lost 11 straight. The four straight home losses are its most since 2001-02.

This was Cincinnati’s second win over Temple in two weeks. The Bearcats won the first meeting at home, 69-58, on Jan. 14. They have now won 12 straight games and have won 10 or more consecutive games in three of the last four seasons.

Still, Kilpatrick argued, this win was as tough as any they have earned this season.

”This is one of our top two (wins),” he said. ”Memphis was the No. 1. But this is top two because this is a hard place to play at. … Being able to have these type of wins in this environment is big.”

The Bearcats will have a chance to add to their resume on Thursday when they visit No. 12 Louisville for their first meeting with the Cardinals this season. In that sense, Sunday could have proven a trap game, and almost did.

But Cronin denied it was anything of the sort. He said his veteran team was plenty focused on a Temple team that has had eight of its 13 losses decided by seven points or less. He pinned the near-upset on someone else.

”You have to give the kid credit,” Cronin said of Pepper. ”Obviously I’m not happy about (our 3-point defense), but I don’t believe in coming and banging on my players and disregarding a performance like Dalton Pepper put up.

”(He) played as good as a guy can possibly play at his position in the second half. They’ve lost a lot of close games, but they continue to play hard. … They’re short-handed, they have guys sitting out for next year, and they’re going to be a problem for everybody in our league next season.”