Temple hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game in the last eight seasons, but that postseason drought could end this March if the Owls’ defense continues to dominate.
The 16th-ranked Owls look to ride one of the nation’s stingiest defenses to their fifth straight win Wednesday night when they host Xavier, the only other Atlantic 10 team without a conference loss.
The Owls (15-3, 3-0) have won the last two A-10 tournament titles, but they have lost all three of their NCAA tournament games since an 84-72 victory over Penn State in the round of 16 in 2001.
Temple, though, has won 11 of 12 since the start of December mainly due to a stifling defense that is holding teams to 56.0 points per game on the season, among the best marks in Division I. The Owls also rank near the top of the nation in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 37.5.
“They’ve been excellent in the half court,” first-year Xavier coach Chris Mack said of the Owls. “They’re a team that really prides itself on making sure you take a contested shot.”
The Owls accomplished that in a 55-53 upset victory over the top-seeded Musketeers in the semifinals of last season’s conference tournament, holding Xavier to a season-low point total and 34.5 percent shooting.
Temple, 7-1 at the Liacouras Center this season, could be tested in this matchup with Xavier (12-5, 4-0), which is second in the conference with 78.6 points per game.
The Owls will get their first look at sophomore transfer Jordan Crawford, who leads the Atlantic 10 with 19.1 points per game. Crawford, who scored 14 of his 16 in the second half of Saturday’s 78-74 win over Dayton, has been held to 40.0 percent shooting over his last six games.
Teammate Dante Jackson has fared better lately, making 14 of 22 from 3-point range during Xavier’s four-game winning streak. The junior guard had career highs with five 3s and 19 points Saturday.
“When he is shooting the ball the way he was, how can you say ‘stop shooting.’?” Mack told the school’s official Web site. “He is the emotional sparkplug of our team.”
Xavier sophomore Brad Redford (47.9 percent) and Jackson (45.8 percent) are the top 3-point shooters in the A-10, but Temple is second in the conference in 3-point defense at 26.0 percent.
Reigning conference player of the week Ryan Brooks looks to build on a career-high 29-point effort in Temple’s 76-64 victory over Massachusetts on Saturday. The senior guard, who leads the Owls with 16.1 points per game, became the 45th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points in the win.
“It’s definitely a great accomplishment for me,” said Brooks, who averaged 10.0 points and 5.0 rebounds as Temple and Xavier split two meetings last season. “I knew about it coming into the game and just wanted to go out there and focus on getting the ‘W’ most importantly.”
In the teams’ last meeting at Liacouras Center, Brooks hit two 3s and had 10 points off the bench in a 78-59 victory over then-No. 20 Xavier on Jan. 16, 2008.
Temple junior Lavoy Allen, third in the conference with 10.3 rebounds per game, posted a double-double in both meetings with Xavier last season, averaging 12.0 points and 12.5 rebounds.
The Owls have won 11 of 20 all-time in the series.
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