HARTFORD, Conn. – With an 80-75 defeat of Memphis in the quarterfinal round of the American Athletic Conference tournament, the Owls won the right to face the team that beat them twice in the regular season.
Temple, the fourth seed in the tournament, will face Southern Methodist, led by hall-of-fame coach Larry Brown, in a conference semifinal matchup Saturday at the XL Center.
The Mustangs highlighted a regular season in which they finished 25-6 with a 15-3 conference record, which topped The American standings. SMU also finished the season with a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the second consecutive year, holding the No. 20 ranking.
With Nic Moore leading the way for the Mustangs, they’ll be tough to contain on the offensive end. Moore, a redshirt-junior guard, won the conference’s player-of-the-year award and is averaging 14.5 points per game and 5.2 assists per game in 31 games, including SMU’s 74-68 win against eighth-seeded East Carolina on Friday.
The Owls will counter with senior guard Will Cummings, who drew consideration for player of the year in his own right, as enters Saturday’s contest with averages of 14.4 ppg and 4.3 apg, along with 2 steals per game.
A Temple spokesman said Saturday morning that junior forward Jaylen Bond is questionable for the game after Bond sprained his right ankle toward the end of the first half against Memphis. He did not return for the rest of the game.
If Bond remains absent for Saturday’s contest, that could give an edge to a Mustangs frontcourt consisting of sixth-man-of-the-year honoree Markus Kennedy, along with the likes of sophomore Ben Moore and senior Yanick Moreira.
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Temple out of his list of teams that he predicts will be the last four teams to make the tournament, and among those that will secure an automatic spot in the second round.
While Friday’s defeat of Memphis may help the Owls’ tournament resume come Sunday night, junior center Devontae Watson, who posted eight points and four rebounds in the second half of Friday’s game in light of Bond’s absence, said his team needs to keep winning if it wants to play in the field of 68.
“With all the talk that’s going on, it’s definitely important that we [beat Memphis],” Watson said after Friday’s game. “The only sure way you get into the NCAA tournament is that you win this tournament. That’s the only sure way you’re getting a bid, and you have to try to strive for that. You’re not guaranteed unless you get that bid.”