For the first time this season, the Houston Cougars found themselves on the losing side of the scoreboard but nearly pushed the game to overtime in the final seconds.
Instead, a call that could have possibly gone either way went in favor of the hosting Temple Owls with only a fragment of a second left, not even allowing a desperation heave to be thought.
The Cougars grabbed a two-point lead with 11:29 to play but that advantage was short-lived as the Owls tied the game and soon after took the lead back, eventually inflating the gap to nine points (65-56) with just over seven minutes remaining.
But Houston was not finished then and supplied a stretch where it outscored Temple, 10-2, with the main contributor being senior Breaon Brady who registered nine of his team-high 19 points in this run to make the score 67-66 with just under two minutes to play.
The next four points went to the Owls but both teams missed ensuing three-point attempts and the Cougars used a timeout with 42 seconds remaining.
Quick out of the break the ball ended in Corey Davis’ hands and he pulled up for a three of his own and buried it, making it a two-point game with less than 30 seconds left.
Houston knew what it had to do and head coach Kelvin Sampson drew up a play to make it interesting near the buzzer.
Davis again had the ball in his hands and attacked the inside only to be met by a towering Ernest Aflakpui.
The 6-foot, 10-inch senior planted his feet and waited for Davis to make his move to the basket which would have to involve a collision with the big man.
Davis appeared to have gone up vertically enough to ward off the charge call but he was deemed to have gone directly into the defender, making it an offensive foul that wiped away the game-tying bucket and possible game-winning free throw.
Instead, the ball went back to Temple which made a pair of free throws, rendering less than a second on the clock to officially hand the Cougars a loss this year.
Sampson pleaded his case to the referees tirelessly but ultimately all to no avail as he fell to his knees in frustration and disbelief of the final call.
“We had the chance to either get a two or a three and I thought if we could get the ball to the basket then I would take the two,” coach Sampson said. “We got our fastest guy the ball in space and [the referee] blows the whistle; if it’s a block [Davis] goes to the free-throw line, we win. If it’s a charge, they win. And that’s how close it was.”
However, he knew the entire game didn’t come down to the final seconds as it was all 40 minutes the shaped the outcome of this American Conference game.
“I wish we coulda played better,” Sampson added. “I’m more disappointed in our effort to start the game than I am disappointed in losing.”
But he went on to mention that there’s no use in getting too involved with either a win or a loss as he knows the next day will require his full attention in order to start preparation on the rest of the road ahead that will certainly come up quickly.
He also added that this team hasn’t experienced defeat since the heart-breaker in the NCAA tournament where Michigan’s Jordan Poole beat the buzzer on a contested three-pointer that secured a Sweet-16 berth for the Wolverines.
“We haven’t lost since last year against Michigan and that was a tough one. So I haven’t seen how these kids react to a loss but we could have lost other games,” Sampson said, listing a few games where Houston could have fallen.
At the end of the night it was this contest with the Owls that served as the initial loss of the season and there’s no two ways around it; Losing stinks.
“There’s bad losses … and then there’s bad losses. There’s never a good one,” Sampson noted. “But losing to Temple is not the end of our season.”
The Cougars will certainly play more basketball, the next game at home against another perennial March Madness team in the Wichita State Shockers, although they have yet to win a conference game so far.
Before the end of his press conference, Sampson put it all in perspective.
“We’re 15-1, not 1-15,” he said simply. “We’ll be OK.”