The final week of conference play is upon us! Now, halfway through the first week of March, teams in The American are closing out their regular season schedules and getting ready for the conference tournament. Houston has controlled the conference for almost the entire season, while Cincinnati and UCF have not been far behind as each of the three clinched a first round bye in next week’s conference tournament.
UCF 69, Houston 64
Down goes the No. 8 team in the country! In a matchup between the conference’s top two teams, UCF emerged the victor, sneaking a five-point win away from the hometown Cougars. Houston boasted the best record in the nation before the game, and had not lost at home in 33 straight contests before Saturday.
Houston started rolling right away, leading by as much as eight in the half, before taking a five- point lead into the break. The Knights opened up the second half in a big way, scoring 11 straight points. Houston would battle the whole way, eventually regaining the lead with under two minutes to play. Then, Aubrey Dawkins hit the biggest shot of the season. With the sold-out crowd on their feet, and fresh off a timeout, Dawkins put his team ahead for good after he nailed an open three-pointer. Some defensive stops and made free throws closed out the five-point victory and, arguably, the biggest win in UCF history.
B.J. Taylor went 8-for-8 from the line and dished out three assists. It was a big day for big men Tacko Fall and Collin Smith as they combined for 34 points and 17 boards.
UCF (22-6, 12-4 The American) will next host Cincinnati at 7 p.m. on Thursday while Houston (27-2, 14-2 The American) hosts in-state rival SMU at 9 p.m. the same day.
Cincinnati 71, Memphis 69
It came down to the final possession, but No. 23 Cincinnati held on for a two-point victory over Memphis, putting the Bearcats in a two-way tie with Houston for the top spot in the conference.
Some poor shooting, in the field and at the line, left the Bearcats with a five point lead at halftime. With the lead as much as 10, Memphis stayed attacking in the second half, bring the lead down to eight with just over two minutes ago. The Tigers cut it down to just two after Jeremiah Martin hit a 3-pointer with 24 ticks left on the game clock. Jarron Cumberland (26 points) made it a 70-67 games when he made one shot from the line. Just 18 seconds to go, Martin made it a one point game on an uncontested layup and immediately sent Memphis to the line off the inbound. After making the first, Trevon Scott missed the second, but teammate Isaiah Maurice secured the rebound with a second to go. However, Cincy’s Logan Johnson, brother of NBA’s Tyler Johnson, stripped the ball and secured the nail-biting win. The Bearcats have now won five games in a row.
Cincinnati (25-4, 14-1 The American) heads to Florida for a Thursday night matchup with UCF at 7 p.m. Memphis will wait until Saturday to host Tulane at 9:30.
Temple 80, Tulane 69
Temple was in control of this one the whole way. Quinton Rose dropped a career-high 29 points while Shizz Alston Jr. added 22 of his own in the Owls’ 21st win on the year.
Temple lead by as much as 21 in the second half, and only lead by less than 10 points for a handful of seconds, in part because they shot 47 percent from the field (compared to Tulane’s 37.7 percent). The Owls forced 14 Green Wave turnovers and converted them to 21-8 advantage in points of turnovers. Tulane held their own on the glass, out-rebounding Temple 49-35, but was not enough to secure a win.
It was a record book day for Alston, who eclipsed 400 assists with his eight dimes, making him one of eight players in program history to do so. He also set a program record of 40-consecutive games with a made three and ranks ninth in school history with 85 made threes in a season.
Temple (21-8, 11-5 The American) will pay the XL Center a visit when they play UConn Thursday night at 7 p.m. Tulane (4-24, 0-16 The American) hosts USF Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
Kevin Arnold is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.