PHILADELPHIA (AP) Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin preaches to his team the importance of finding ways to win when you’re not hitting shots. Wednesday night’s victory over Temple could be Exhibit A of his mantra.
Gary Clark scored 11 points, including two important free throws with 14.9 seconds left, and No. 23 Cincinnati overcame a poor shooting game to beat Temple 56-50.
Jacob Evans III also scored 11 points for the Bearcats (11-2, 1-0), who shot 32.8 percent (19 for 58) from the field and 27.8 percent (5 for 18) from 3-point range.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty,” Cronin said. “You have to learn to win tough games. Our saying is you have to win when you miss shots.”
Daniel Dingle scored 15 points to lead Temple (9-5, 0-1). Alani Moore II and Shizz Alston Jr. added 10 points apiece for the Owls, who also struggled from the field.
As much as they misfired offensively, Cincinnati excelled defensively. The Bearcats held the Owls to 16 for 60 (26.7 percent) from the field and 5 for 26 (19.2 percent) from 3-point range.
“This is as well as we’ve played defensively all season,” Cronin said. “Period. Hands down.”
The game was the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams. The Bearcats were picked to win the conference in the preseason while Temple, the defending regular-season champion, was chosen sixth.
“That’s conference basketball,” Cronin said.
Cincinnati averaged 102.7 points per game over a three-game winning streak, but the Bearcats didn’t look like they would get to even 50 points the way they were playing early in the second half.
After shooting 35.5 percent in the opening half, Cincinnati missed its first six shots of the second half and Temple took its biggest lead, 33-29, on Dingle’s three-point play with 16:24 left.
But Cincinnati recovered and used a 10-0 run midway through the half to go up 47-39 with 7:30 remaining on Tre Scott’s dunk. Temple missed six shots, five of which were 3-point attempts, during the Bearcats spurt.
“Nobody could throw it in the ocean,” Clark said. “We knew eventually somebody was going to get loose.”
Temple pulled within 52-50 on Dingle’s drive with 1:31 remaining. Troy Caupain appeared to make it 54-50 on a bank shot with 56.9 seconds left but officials determined that the shot didn’t beat the shot clock after video review.
Evans then blocked Dingle’s 3-point attempt that would have put the Owls ahead, but it remained a two-point game when Clark missed both free throws with 31.5 seconds left. But Dingle then committed Temple’s 16th turnover by throwing the ball away and Clark all but sealed the win with two free throws to make it 54-50 with 14.9 seconds left.
Clark quickly had to put the previous two misses from the line out of his head.
“One of the coaches told me to clear my mind, think about my mechanics and go to a positive place,” Clark said. “Think about unicorns or something.”
Cincinnati: The conference road victory over Temple will look good come March for the Bearcats. Cincinnati has made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
“It’s huge,” Cronin said of the win. “My respect for Coach Dunphy and his program, I can’t say enough about his program.”
Temple: Leading scorer Obi Enechionyia struggled for the second straight game. After scoring a season-low three points on 1-for-11 shooting his last time out in an 83-77 win over Yale on Dec. 22, Enechionyia had seven points on 3-for-10 shooting against Cincinnati. The Owls will need Enechionyia, who entered averaging 16.2 points per contest, to rediscover his offensive game to have any chance of repeating as regular-season conference champions.
“People are guarding him differently,” Dunphy said. “He’s not getting open looks and he needs to make that adjustment.”
Temple played without senior guard Josh Brown for the third straight game and ninth overall this season due to an Achilles’ injury.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy said Brown would have an MRI on Thursday. Brown, along with input from doctors and trainers, would then decide whether to try to return or take a medical redshirt for the season.
Cincinnati: Hosts Tulane on Sunday night.
Temple: Visits Central Florida on Saturday afternoon.