American University's press brought the Eagles back from large deficits twice last night, but 42 percent free-throw shooting sent AU to its second straight defeat at Fort Myer.
Temple dominated play inside and camped out at the free-throw line to win, 67-62, and finish the East Coast Conference regular season undefeated.
The Owls (19-6, 11-0) had four players in double figures and were led by Terence Stansbury's 19 points and eight rebounds. Stansbury, a 6-foot-5 guard, constantly got himself in position to be fouled and made 13 of 14 free throws. Temple made 29 of 38 free throws, which more than offset American's 27-19 edge in field goals.
The Eagles made only eight of 19 from the foul line. "We've shot better than 70 percent all season, but made only 42 percent tonight," AU Coach Gary Williams said. "Even on a bad night at the line, the gap shouldn't be that big."
The defeat did not affect American's status in the conference playoffs. The Eagles (19-7, 8-3) finished third in the Eastern Division--behind Temple and St. Joseph's--and will play host on Monday at Fort Myer to the loser of tonight's Lehigh-Bucknell game.
Eagle forward Mark Nickens scored a game-high 24 points, but the Eagles struggled on offense against Temple's quick matchup zone defenses.
"The key to beating a team like Temple is forcing turnovers, then converting them into points for us. We'd steal the ball, then miss a shot, or rebound a missed free throw and miss a shot," said point guard Gordon Austin.
Austin hadn't seen the final statistics, but his analysis told the story.
The American press, led by Ferdie Aunon's six steals, forced Temple into 21 turnovers. But poor shooting from the field (47 percent) and the line prevented the Eagles from maintaining control.
AU made three successive steals to go ahead, 10-3. But Temple--with 6-8 forwards Granger Hall and Alton McCullough, and 6-5 Stansbury dominating the rebounding--scored 12 straight points to take a 15-10 lead.
The Eagles missed eight of 13 foul shots in the first half, as Temple took a 36-29 lead.
Still, the Eagles mounted their first comeback by scoring the first three baskets of the second half, to pull within 36-35. But when Austin missed the first of two free throws, the crowd of 2,450 grew quiet, and the Owls started another surge.
Hall (17 points, eight rebounds) grabbed a teammate's missed shot and scored. Guard Ed Coe stole the ball and drove in for another basket. And Stansbury made a jumper to put Temple ahead, 44-36, with 14 minutes to play.
When Hall increased the Temple lead to nine points with a free throw, the Eagles seemed to be finished.
But AU's trapping press forced three steals and a traveling violation, and the Eagles scored 11 of the next 14 points to tie the contest at 47 with 11 minutes to play.
Austin started the rally with a jumper, which was followed by a steal by Aunon and a basket by Nickens. Ed Sloane stole a pass and went in for a layup, cutting AU's deficit to 45-42.
After Hall's free throws put Temple back on top, 49-47, AU got baskets from Austin (17 points) and Nickens to go ahead, 51-49, and send the fans at the Fort into a frenzy.
But Hall blocked Nickens' shot, which could have put AU four points ahead, and McCullough scored to tie the game at 51 with six minutes to play. Nickens atoned by scoring and putting the Eagles' ahead, 55-53, with less than five minutes to play.
But guard Kevin Broadnax stole the ball and scored to tie the game again. Temple went ahead for good on four straight free throws by Stansbury with two minutes remaining.