Temple reserve guard Josh Brown hit his first field goal of the game — a bank shot from about ten feet — with two seconds to play to give the Owls the win this afternoon at FedExForum. The loss all but crushes the Tigers' chances for a conference championship, and compounds the agony of losing their star player for what looks like two weeks, minimum.
Junior guard Kedren Johnson converted a driving layup with 7.6 seconds to play to give the Tigers a 60-59 lead, but without using a timeout, Temple got the ball to Brown with two lengthy passes for his game-winner. "I knew once it left his hands it was going in," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner. "We practice a lot of time-and-score situations, late-game stuff. I told the guys, after we score, we gotta get back. I think the excitement of the crowd going wild . . . . We did a good job of stopping Will Cummings. You gotta give him credit: he threw it to Josh Brown, and he hit a shot. A tough shot off the glass.
Making matters worse, sophomore forward Austin Nichols fell awkwardly with 7:10 left in the game, injuring his right ankle. He left the court with help, not placing any weight on his right leg. Pastner said the initial diagnosis is an ankle sprain, but Nichols will have an MRI and is expected to miss two weeks (four games). At the time of the Nichols injury, Memphis led 52-48. Even missing the last seven minutes, Nichols led all scorers with 17 points, blocked six shots, and pulled down eight rebounds. His 78 blocks this season are the eighth-most in Tiger history.
"Not having Austin makes a big difference for us," said Pastner. "Guys know he's our best player, the anchor of our team. That was a punch in the gut to our guys. They love Austin Nichols. I was proud of our guys to rally, not be discouraged. We put ourselves in a position to win the game. Temple has more experience; they're a very good team."
Pastner acknowledged 15 turnovers hurt his team's cause. And some woeful shooting. "We had some open threes we didn't stick," said Pastner. "If we hit two of those, we win." The Tigers missed 15 of 19 shots from long range. Johnson, Avery Woodson, and Trahson Burrell combined to hit but one of 11.
The Tigers raced to a big, early lead, a Johnson jumper putting them up 22-12 with just over 10 minutes played. The lead grew to 15 (32-17) before Temple closed the deficit to 10 (38-28) at halftime. The Owls didn't lead until Jaylen Bond hit a pair of free throws to give Temple a 56-54 lead with 4:40 to play. Temple's backcourt trio of Cummings, Jesse Morgan, and Quenton DeCosey combined to score 39 points, precisely the total they've averaged for the season. Morgan hit all 10 of his free throws to help the Owls improve to 17-7 (8-3 in the American Athletic Conference). Overall, Temple hit 20 of 32 free throws while Memphis made 12 of 18.
The loss took some shimmer off a stellar game by Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin. The junior pulled down 17 rebounds — a career high — in the first half alone, and finished the game with 23, the program's first 20-rebound effort since Joey Dorsey pulled down 22 in a 2008 game against Houston. Ronnie Robinson has held the Memphis single-game rebound record (28) for 44 years.
"It's a game of runs," said Goodwin. "They made the last big shot. We can't dwell on losses. We'll start getting prepared for East Carolina tomorrow." As for his night on the glass, Goodwin said, "I guess the ball found me today. It was a magnet. But none of that matters in a loss."
Johnson scored 11 points for the Tigers in a season-high 37 minutes of action. Burrell was the only Tiger to play more than 10 minutes off the bench but missed all three of his three-point attempts.
"It stings," said Johnson. "It's a terrible way to lose. "The guys in the locker room aren't going to give up. We'll keep fighting. Toward the end of the first half, we took our foot off the pedal a bit, and they took advantage of it."
Now 14-9 (6-4 in the AAC), the Tigers travel to play East Carolina next Tuesday. They won't return to FedExForum until UConn visits on February 19th.