Hartford, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - A spot in the title game of the American Athletic Conference Tournament is on the line Saturday afternoon as the Temple Owls go to battle against the 20th-ranked SMU Mustangs in the semifinals at the XL Center.
The top-seeded Mustangs, led by legendary head coach Larry Brown, took care of business in the semifinals on Friday afternoon with a 74-68 victory over East Carolina, the eighth seed. SMU, which has been to the NCAA Tournament 10 times previously, is appearing in the semifinals of a conference tournament for the first time since 2003 as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
As for the fourth-seeded Owls, their tournament experience began with an 80-55 victory against fifth-seeded Memphis yesterday afternoon. Not only was it the 23rd win of the season for Temple, it also marked the 500th career victory for head coach Fran Dunphy, the AAC Coach of the Year.
The all-time series between these squads is knotted at three apiece, with SMU winning both of the regular season meetings in 2014-15. The team secured a 60-55 victory in Philadelphia back in January.
The winner of this meeting will go up against the survivor of the UConn/Tulsa matchup in the title game on Sunday afternoon for the right to represent the AAC in the NCAA Tournament.
Leading the way for the Owls on Friday was Will Cummings with 21 points and six assists, followed by Quenton DeCosey and Jesse Morgan who tallied 14 and 13 points, respectively. The duo also combining for 15 rebounds. As a unit, Temple shot 45.5 percent from the field, hitting on 8-of-19 (.421) behind the 3-point line, to go along with 22-of-29 at the free-throw line in order to overcome a nine-point deficit in the first half. Defensively, the Owls limited Memphis to only 5-of-20 on the perimeter.
On a team averaging 65.1 ppg, Cummings is leading the way with 14.4 ppg, although his mere 19.3 percent effort beyond the arc is sorely lacking and has brought the entire team down to only 30.8 percent on the perimeter. DeCosey checks in with 12.3 ppg and Morgan another 11.9 ppg as the pair shoots in the neighborhood of 36 percent on the outside.
SMU found itself behind by double figures in the first half against the Pirates yesterday, due mostly to ECU being allowed to knock down 8-of-15 shots behind the 3-point line. The Mustangs were much tougher with their perimeter defense in the second half, permitting only seven of East Carolina's 20 attempts to convert.
At the offensive end of the floor, the Ponies were paced by Nic Moore with his 20 points, followed by Markus Kennedy with 15, Ben Moore 11 points and Yanick Moreira 10 during the six-point triumph.
For the season, Nic Moore is leading the program in scoring with 14.5 ppg, followed by Moreira and Kennedy with 11.3 ppg apiece as the team generates a healthy 69.7 ppg and allows just 60.1 ppg. Opponents have converted just 38.4 percent of their field goal tries against SMU on the campaign.