Jarace Walker scored 23 points and No. 3 Houston unleashed its smothering defense in the second half to knock off host Temple 81-65 in a showdown for first place in the American Athletic Conference on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
The Cougars (22-2, 10-1 AAC) won their fourth straight game and avenged a one-point loss to the Owls in Houston on Jan. 22.
Marcus Sasser added 13 points, and Jamal Shead chipped in 12 points, seven assists and three steals for Houston. Two of his steals came as the Cougars' defense led a 13-0 run to start the second half, turning a four-point deficit into a 46-37 lead. Walker also added one of his three steals during the burst.
Khalif Battle led Temple (14-10, 8-3) with 24 points, and Zach Hicks and Jamille Reynolds added 11 points and six rebounds apiece. The Owls missed a chance to tie the Cougars atop the AAC and hold the tiebreaker. Instead, they're two games back.
Houston, which shot 55.8 percent for the game thanks to a blistering 72 percent in the second half, also got 12 points and four blocks from J'Wan Roberts, among eight blocks for the team.
Temple, which shot 48.1 percent in the first half, stumbled to just 29.2 percent after intermission and 39.2 percent for the game.
Houston trailed 37-33 at the break, but its second-half dominance began with Walker's jumper off an assist from Roberts. On the other end, Roberts blocked a layup and then hit a hook shot to tie the game at 37-37.
After Temple missed another layup, Houston's Tramon Mark was fouled on a shot and hit both free throws. Then came steals by Walker, who scored on a layup, and Shead, who fed Sasser for a three-point play and a 44-37 lead.
Shead made another steal moments later and took it in for a layup for a 46-37 lead.
Hicks finally ended the run by tipping in his own miss with 15 minutes left to cut the lead back to seven, but the Cougars gradually extended the cushion to double digits for good on a three-point play by Roberts with 7:08 left.
In a first half that had five ties and nine lead changes, Temple led 37-31, the biggest bulge by either team in the half, after Hicks hit a 3-pointer with 1:47 remaining.
--Field Level Media