GAME NOTES: First-round action in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament continues on Wednesday with the eighth-seeded Temple Owls battling the ninth-seeded UCF Knights at FedExForum.
UCF may not have had a very memorable season as it made the move from Conference USA to the AAC, but it did end the regular season in style, crushing Houston in a 104-83 final. The rest of the campaign was not as successful, with the Knights finishing at 12-17 overall and 4-14 in conference.
Temple also ended the regular season with a win, as Quenton DeCosey's floater at the buzzer led it to a 66-65 victory over South Florida. The Owls, who finished just 4-14 in league play as well, are the higher seed in this matchup, despite an inferior overall record (9-21), due to the league's tiebreaker procedures.
These teams split the regular-season series, with UCF escaping with a 78-76 win at home and Temple returning the favor just over a week ago with an 86-78 triumph. Those were the first two matchups ever between the programs. The winner this time will advance to face top-seeded Cincinnati in the next round.
Isaiah Sykes flirted with a triple-double, tallying 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists in leading UCF to its dominant regular-season closing victory. The Knights sank 54.5 percent of their shots from the floor, including 11- of-30 from 3-point range in the 21-point victory.
Sykes (16.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.6 apg) is certainly one of the better guards in the AAC, a league chock full of talented backcourt players. His efforts for this season were recognized earlier this week when he was named second-team all-conference. Sykes leads the Knights in several categories, including scoring, rebounding and assists, while also logging 1.6 steals per game. Behind Sykes are Tristan Spurlock (11 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Calvin Newell (10 ppg), who are the other double-digit scorers on the roster. Neither was particularly effective in the season finale as they combined for 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the field.
DeCosey did more than just hit the game-winner for Temple in its final game of the regular season, as he finished with 18 points and seven rebounds to push the Owls to victory in a game in which they only went 3-of-11 from 3-point range and were outscored 26-4 off of turnovers.
Fran Dunphy has relied heavily on his group of starters this season. Leading the way, at least in terms of scoring, is Dalton Pepper (17.6 ppg), who finished among the top-three scorers in the conference alongside All-AAC First-Team selection Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati) and Shabazz Napier (UConn). Will Cummings (16.5 ppg, 4.4 apg) is the real leader, running the point and providing plenty of playmaking ability. DeCosey (15 ppg) can also light up the scoreboard, and Anthony Lee (13.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg) is the league's leading glass cleaner. Unfortunately, no other player on the roster scores more than 4.3 ppg.
This is a fitting end to the season series between these teams, with each winning against the other at home earlier in the year. While Sykes may be the best player on the floor, Dunphy's coaching acumen gives the Owls a leg up.