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CINCINNATI – The starting point guard was missing. The roster was down to eight players, including a walk-on. Yet Temple found itself ahead by two points late in the game.
Then it all came apart again.
Sean Kilpatrick emerged from his 3-point shooting slump Tuesday night, and Justin Jackson had a double-double, rallying No. 19 Cincinnati from the late deficit to a 69-58 victory over the short-handed Owls.
After Temple went ahead 47-45 with 7:24 to go, Kilpatrick hit consecutive 3s that started a 12-point run and put the Bearcats in control.
The Owls (5-10, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) have lost five straight and remain alone at the bottom of the AAC. They dressed only eight players Tuesday night because of injuries. Dalton Pepper led the Owls with 21 points.
"I think there is light at the end of the tunnel," coach Fran Dunphy said. "I think we are right where we need to be in so many different games. I am proud of our guys for that part of it, but we need to finish better and really show a little bit more toughness down the stretch. And hopefully we are getting there."
The Owls were missing guard Will Cummings, who averages 16.1 points and 4.1 assists. Cummings had concussion symptoms from a game last week.
"It hurts a lot not having Will out there," Pepper said. "He's our floor general, he plays a lot of D and he plays with a lot of heart. He brings a lot of stuff to the table so it hurts us a lot."
Freshman point guard Josh Brown made his first career start and had three points, six assists and five of Temple's 15 turnovers.
"In all honesty, I think Josh Brown came of age today," Dunphy said. "I think he did a really good job substituting for Will. He played just about the whole game and I thought he made some really good plays.
"But it did hurt us (without Cummings)."
Kilpatrick made the baskets that made the different. He went 6 of 13 from behind the arc, including consecutive 3s that helped Cincinnati (16-2, 5-0) pull away.
The Bearcats improved to 13-0 at home and remained alone atop the conference with their ninth straight win.
Kilpatrick leads the AAC in scoring at 18.4 points per game but has struggled with his outside shot, going only 4 of 33 from beyond the arc in his five previous games. He was only 1 of 10 on 3-point attempts during a 71-51 win over Rutgers on Saturday.
Kilpatrick made 3-pointers during the Bearcats' afternoon practice and felt his confidence return.
"Coach (Mick Cronin) was really basically telling us you've got to play offense with a lot of confidence, you can't be afraid to shoot," Kilpatrick said. "That's something that kept clicking in the back of my mind, just keep shooting."
Jackson had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots, one shy of his career high. Once the Bearcats started getting the ball inside Temple's zone defense in the second half, Kilpatrick started getting open shots on the perimeter.
Cincinnati's 16-2 start matches its best during Cronin's eight seasons. The Bearcats moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season on Monday.
Cincinnati has put together its winning streak on the strength of its defense, which allows only 56.2 points per game, fewest in the AAC. The Bearcats haven't given up more than 67 points in any game this season.
Overall, Cincinnati has held the last 25 opponents under 70 points, the longest active streak in the nation.
Temple relies on its exceptional balance on offense — one of only three teams in Division I with four players averaging at least 13 points per game. With Cummings gone, the Owls had fewer options. They went 7:43 without scoring during the first half as Cincinnati built an 11-point lead.
The Owls' biggest problem has their defense, which gives up 75.9 points per game — worst in the league. Its zone defense kept Cincinnati out of sorts until the closing minutes.
Up 27-25 at halftime, Cincinnati opened the second half with a 6-1 spurt, but Quenton DeCosey had a basket, two free throws and a fast-break layup that cut it to 33-32. Mark Williams' 3-pointer tied it at 35-all.
Titus Rubles completed a three-point play, and Kilpatrick it a 3 as Cincinnati regained the lead and pushed it to 45-37. Devontae Watson picked up his fourth foul for Temple with 10:31 left, further depleting the bench.
DeCosey had a dunk and a fade-away jumper, and Brown's steal and layup gave Temple a 47-45 lead with 7:24 left, the Owls' first lead since midway through the first half.
That's when Kilpatrick hit his 3s from the left wing, starting the clinching run.
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