MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Four minutes into Saturday night’s American Athletic Conference game against Temple at FedExForum, Memphis freshman starting forward Austin Nichols had earned himself a seat on the bench next to coach Josh Pastner.
Nichols was playing uninspired basketball.
“I thought Austin was awful the first (five) minutes,” Pastner said. “He just wasn’t into it. I just said to him, ‘Tell me right now, if you don’t want to play, just sit right here and watch the game. You’ll have a good seat.’
“I told him I didn’t have time to wait for him. (Later), he said, ‘Coach, I’m ready.’ I put him back in and he was a monster.”
Nichols’ effort — 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots — allowed the 22nd-ranked Tigers to escape an upset bid by struggling Temple and claim an 82-79 win in overtime.
Forward Shaq Goodwin led the Tigers (21-6, 10-4) with 20 points, 18 of which came in the second half, and guard Joe Jackson contributed 12 points and a game-high eight assists.
Temple (7-19, 2-12) had three players score 20 points or more. Guard Will Cummings finished with 24, guard Quenton DeCosey scored 23 and guard Dalton Pepper had 20.
The Tigers shot 57 percent from the field to overcome a poor 42.9 percent effort (9-of-21) from the free throw line.
Temple battled valiantly despite playing only seven of its eight available players and sticking mostly with the starters.
Nichols recovered from his sluggish start to score nine points and grab seven rebounds in the first half. Five of his seven blocks came in the second half. The double-double was the first of his career.
“I was hitting some shots, getting some blocks, getting some rebounds, so I just kind of went with it,” Nichols said. “Growing up, I’ve always been the taller kid. I’ve been blocking shots pretty much my whole life. To do it on the collegiate level is definitely a step up.”
It did not appear that Temple would make as determined a run as it eventually did. Early in the second half, the Tigers led 57-49 with 13:22 to go after a basket by Nichols.
Temple recovered to put together a 14-2 run and take a 63-59 lead with 9:45 left. Pepper had two 3-pointers during the surge.
“They kept it close throughout the whole game and closed the gap to send it into overtime,” Goodwin said. “They are a good team, but in overtime it came down to who got the last stop. We did.”
Temple’s comeback set up a frantic stretch. The lead changed hands five times during a two-minute stretch and neither team led by more than one during the closing eight minutes until Jackson hit a 15-foot jumper with 1:43 to go for a 74-71 lead.
The Owls tied the score at 74 with 1:13 to on a three-point play by Pepper. Neither team was able to connect in the final minute. Temple had two shots in the final 10 seconds of regulation and Nichols misfired on a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In overtime, Nichols put the Tigers ahead with a short left-handed hook, but Pepper responded with a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 77-76 Temple advantage with 3:24 left.
Jackson answered a minute later with a layup, Goodwin scored with 42 seconds to go for an 80-77 lead and two free throws by reserve guard Michael Dixon Jr. with 17 seconds left provided the final margin.
“We had some miscues at the end and threw a couple of balls away,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We also could have made a better decision on the last shot we had in regulation on (a) second-chance shot. We just forced it up there.”
Memphis shot 57 percent in the first half to take a 40-32 halftime lead. Temple shot 37 percent but kept it close throughout most of the first 20 minutes.
Temple had early leads of 5-2 and 9-6 before the Tigers went ahead 10-9 on a tip-in by guard Geron Johnson, who led Memphis with 10 points in the first half.
Dixon sparked the Tigers with two jump shots, including a 3-pointer, and an alley-oop pass to Johnson for an emphatic dunk and a 17-13
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