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December 18, 2013

Murray dominates Temple, smashes record book

Another day, another Temple opponent made to look like a world-beater.

Aaric Murray shattered the record books as Texas Southern beat Temple, 90-89, Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center in dramatic fashion.

Yes, that Aaric Murray.

Murray, of La Salle and West Virginia fame, scored 48 points off of 20 of 28 shooting to lead the Texas Southern, which improved to 4-7. His 48 points were the most by a Division 1 player this season and the most ever scored by a Temple opponent. Murray also broke Lynn Greer's Liacouras Center record of 43 points, set against Fordham in 2002.

Not a bad homecoming for the Glen Mills School product.

Despite Murray's performance, Temple rallied from a 14-point deficit to take a one-point lead after Anthony Lee hit two free throws with 14 seconds left in the game. Texas Southern guard Ray Penn missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession before Daniel Dingle was called for a foul with seven seconds left. Madarious Gibbs hit both of his free throws to give the Tigers the 90-89 lead. Dalton Pepper put back an offensive rebound as time expired but officials determined that the ball did not leave his hand before the buzzer.

But, in spite of the late dramatics, Murray's performance was the dominant storyline in Wednesday's loss. And it came as just the latest outburst in Murray's renaissance season. The 6-foot-10 Murray played his first two seasons at La Salle before being kicked off the team. Murray then transferred to West Virginia before being dismissed from the Mountaineers.

Those two dismissals ultimately led Murray to Texas Southern, where he averaged 22.2 points per game coming into Wednesday's game.

Three teams in five years led to Wednesday's career performance.

"I think he's one of the best, if not the best big man in the country," Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. "Forty-eight points is an unbelievable feat for some people but not for Aaric."

"This is by far the best offensive performance I've ever witnessed as a coach," Davis added. "But we expect it out of him. ... To be able to come home and perform like that is big but that's what he should be doing. That's the kind of player he is."

Lee and sophomore Devontae Watson had no answer for Murray. After shooting 75 percent in the first half, Murray shot 11 of 16 in the final 20 minutes despite facing added attention from the Temple defense.

For a Temple team transitioning into a new, tougher conference, this loss hurt. The Owls will now enter their inaugural American Athletic Conference season with a .500 record at best. The last time Temple started its conference slate with a non-winning record was during the 2007-2008 season, when the Owls entered Atlantic 10 play at a 6-7 mark. That team ultimately rebounded to win the conference and make the NCAA tournament.

But The American isn't the Atlantic 10. Temple was not expected to contend with the likes of Louisville and Connecticut for the conference title. Instead, Temple would likely need to secure an at-large bid if it wished to continue its streak of NCAA tournament appearances.

This didn't help.

Texas Southern entered the game with an RPI of just 289 according to RealTimeRPI.com. Texas Southern had only defeated powerhouses such as Norfolk State, Wiley and Howard coming into the contest.

Thanks to a defense that had no answer for Murray, you can add the sixth-winningest program of all-time to that list.

Since the 2009-10 season, Temple's defense has gotten progressively worse almost every year. During that 29-win season, Temple limited opponents to just 56.8 points per game. In 2010-11, that average increased to 62.5. In 2011-12, the Owls let up 69.5 points per game. Last season, Temple stepped its game up and limited opponents to 67.9 points per game.

This season, opponents are averaging 76.4 points per game against the Owls.

"We didn't do a good enough job tonight on the defensive end," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "I think our offensive efficiency is getting better. We're really struggling on the defensive end. That's where we need to shore our team up."

"I'm frustrated that I'm not doing as good of a job as I need to do," Dunphy added. "The kids want to play, they want to do the best they can. It's up to me to put them in a better position."

Five Temple players scored in double digits, led by sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey's career-high 19 points. Dingle also scored a career high with 13 points in 28 minutes. Pepper added 14 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists.

Temple will now face LIU Brooklyn on Saturday at the Barclays Center. After that, Temple will enter its conference schedule on January 1 at Rutgers.

"It's a very important game for us," Dunphy said. "It's early in the season and we need to get better each and every game. Some aspects of the game we're getting better at. Others, we're just not improving nearly as quickly as we need to be."

Dunphy's squad needs to figure out a way to get better on the defensive end in a hurry. If teams such as Texas Southern are able to have their way against Temple, imagine what national championship contenders could do.

OwlScoop.com assistant editor Kyle Gauss can be reached at kgauss@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kylegauss.


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