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Temple-SMU Preview

Though SMU has surged its way to the top of the American Athletic Conference standings, no team in the league has won more consecutive games than Temple.

After rallying to win this season’s first meeting, the No. 21 Mustangs could be in for another serious challenge while trying to keep the visiting Owls from an eighth straight victory Thursday night.

A winner of three straight and 19 of 21, SMU (21-5, 12-2) sits alone atop the AAC with Tulsa and Temple close behind.

The Mustangs have shot 50.0 percent while holding their last three opponents to 34.3 percent since shooting 36.5 and allowing Cincinnati to go 21 of 37 from the floor in a 62-54 home loss Feb. 5.

“I think we’re making progress and that’s the most important thing,” said coach Larry Brown, whose team has only lost to the Bearcats in league play.

The Mustangs look to continue that progression by building on Saturday’s 73-55 win over Connecticut in front of the largest crowd to witness a game at Moody Coliseum. Six-foot-11 senior Yanick Moreira was one of three players with 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for SMU, which went 14 of 26 from the field in the first half.

Leading scorer Nic Moore (14.4 points per game) is one of three Mustangs averaging at least 11.1 points, and though he was held to 10 against UConn, he dished out six assists.

“I don’t think we have a selfish soul on the team,” said guard Sterling Brown, whose 13 points were a season high. “We all love playing together.”

Temple (19-7, 10-3) saw some of that togetherness firsthand while blowing a 13-point second-half lead in a 60-55 home loss Jan. 14. Reserve forward and Philadelphia native Markus Kennedy (11.1 ppg) scored 21 on 9-of-11 shooting and Moore hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:20 left to help SMU to its second victory in three games versus Temple since the AAC debuted last season.

Kennedy, who began his collegiate career at Villanova, has averaged 17.7 points and 7.0 boards in those three versus Temple.

“They are just a really good team, they play the right way,” said Owls coach Fran Dunphy, whose team shot 30.3 percent from the field in a 75-52 loss at SMU last season – its second-worst shooting effort of 2013-14.

“It will be a great challenge for us.”

After finishing 9-22 last season, the Owls have a chance to win eight in a row for the first time since an 11-game run in 2011-12. Temple visits Tulsa on Sunday after facing SMU.

“This is a good week for us,” said guard Will Cummings, who averages a team-leading 13.7 points. “We want to stay in the thick of things and stay in focus.”

Cummings was held to six points – including one in 27 minutes off the bench versus SMU – during a two-game January stretch. A leg injury then kept him out of Temple’s next contest Jan. 17 at Cincinnati, the Owls’ third straight loss. Since then, he’s averaged 15.6 points during this seven-game run.

Though the Owls are shooting 40.9 percent during their streak, they’ve allowed an average of 52.4 points and held opponents to 36.3 percent from the field.

Temple knocked off then-No. 10 Kansas 77-52 at home Dec. 22, but has dropped 22 straight road games against Top 25 opponents since beating No. 1 Cincinnati on Feb. 20, 2000.

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