By Julie Glass
Temple is still theoretically on the Big Dance Bubble.
But Shizz Alston Jr. may have punctured that bubble last night at UConn.
Alston scored a career-high 34 points, leading the Owls back from a six-point second-half deficit to a 78-71 road win and improving their hopes alive for an at-large tournament berth.
Alston hit 12 of his 14 shots from the floor and was 4 of 5 from behind the arc for Temple (22-8, 12-5 American), which had beaten the Huskies by 18 points in Philadelphia in January.
”I just wasn’t going to let us lose,” Alston said. ”I knew if we kept pace with them, we could pull it out in the end, but I never wanted them to get separation, because they’re a dangerous home team.”
Quinton Rose added 20 points for Temple, which secured a bye in the first-round of next week’s conference tournament.
Christian Vital had 26 points off the bench for UConn (14-16, 5-12), which lost for the first time this season at Gampel Pavilion. Josh Carlton added 21 points in a losing effort.
UConn trailed by as many as 10-points in the first half, but came back to take its first lead five minutes into the second half on a long 3-pointer from Tyler Polley.
Carlton brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk off a spin move, part of a run that saw UConn go up 53-47.
The Huskies led 58-56 when Alterique Gilbert, their point guard, took an elbow to the face and had to be taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Vital said that took the air out of both the team and the arena.
”He’s one of our best players,” Vital said. ”Clearly, whenever you have one of your better players go down, it’s going to disrupt the team, especially in the second half. We had our flow going.”
A steal and dunk from Alston put Temple up 65-60 and the Owls hit their free throws down the stretch to hang on.
”He made some big, big baskets tonight,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who was coaching his final regular-season road game. ”He’s not a dunker, but I’m sure he felt he had great legs about him on that play.”
The Owls have won five of their last six to join Houston, Cincinnati and UCF with tournament byes.
Temple shot 49 percent from the floor, hit 7 of 12 shots from 3-point range and made 17 of 20 free throws.
Alston’s four 3-pointers gives him 89 this season, tying him with Mike Vreeswyk for fifth place on the program’s single-season list. His 589 points this season ranks 20th in program history.
The Owls close the regular season at home on Saturday with a showdown against UCF, which came into Thursday 12-4 in the conference.