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In Liacouras swan song, Pepper lifts Temple to win
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Dalton Pepper took the floor before his teammates Tuesday night.

Honored as the Owls' lone senior this season, he was walked out to midcourt by his parents before posing for a picture with his head coach and athletic director and finally being presented with a framed jersey.

Then, once the game started, he stayed on the floor as long as anyone.

In the final home game of his collegiate career, Pepper scored a game-high 26 points in a whopping 44 minutes to lead Temple over UCF, 86-78, in overtime (see Instant Replay).

It's not quite the end of his career -- the Owls have one more regular-season game and then the American Athletic Conference tournament to play -- but he's almost there.

And it was the last time he'd play in front of his friends and family at home.

"It feels really good to get a win in my last game at the Liacouras Center," he said. "I just wanted to end the regular season in the right way, and it was a big win for us."

Actually, it was only Temple's fourth home win of the season, if you can believe it. The Owls' (8-21, 3-14) season-long struggles have naturally extended to their home floor.

The Liacouras Center is a building in which Temple has always enjoyed success -- even before it was called the Liacouras Center. The Owls once won 25 straight games here from January 2010-December 2011 under Fran Dunphy. Coming into 2013-14, Temple was 152-43 at the Apollo for a 77.9 winning percentage since the building opened in 1997.

But Tuesday's down-to-the-wire win only improved the Owls' home record this year to a final 4-10. That number exactly doubles the record for the most losses by a Temple team at the Liacouras Center in a single season.

"It was an important win," Dunphy said. "Anytime … yeah, we need wins."

Even if only for Pepper. Frankly, he deserved one.

The fifth-year swingman came into Tuesday averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game, good enough for fourth in the American behind Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick. Pepper is the only one of the four without a national profile.

He's just got one locally. A native of Levittown, Pa., he scored a Pennsbury High School-record 2,207 points, fell a few rebounds shy of 1,000 and was named the AP's 2009 Pennsylvania big school player of the year.

What happened after that has been repeated often this season. Pepper was recruited by Dunphy, but he ultimately chose Bob Huggins and West Virginia. After two years in Morgantown in which he struggled to crack the Mountaineers' rotation, he came home, transferred to Temple and sat out a season the 2011-12 season.

And last year, just like in his two years at West Virginia, he once again lacked opportunity. In an inconsistent 11.3 minutes per game on a team with five seniors, Pepper shot 21.8 percent through his first 20 games as an Owl.

Now, finally with a chance to shine, Pepper's been a 41.1 percent shooter this year in 37.1 minutes. In nine games this year, including Tuesday night, he's played 40 or more minutes.

It's just a shame that the season in which Pepper finally got his chance is the same season that Temple has set a new program record for losses.

"It's hard," Dunphy said when asked about senior, which is what he usually (and understandably) says when asked about it every year. As for Pepper, in specific:

"He's a tremendous kid. He's had a great season so far. He's got a little more to go, but he's given everything he possibly could. … When he came back into the locker room, everyone was very happy for him that he had his last game here at Liacouras. It was important that we won the game, but more importantly for them they wanted Pep to have this as a going away present."

Dunphy was then asked what it was like to finally see Pepper flourish after four years when it looked like he may have just been one of those really great high school players who never really translated to college.

"There's no way you can say he didn't have it in him," Dunphy said. "This is the kind of kid he can be. He just didn't have the confidence level that he has now. The fact that we needed him so badly, I've said to him a number of times, 'It's not like if you make a mistake you're coming out. You're not coming out. So do whatever you can to be the best player you can and stay in the moment.' And for the most part he has done that.

"We had a lot of bodies at his position last year, so he wasn't given that same opportunity to fail that he has this year. It's just the way life has worked out for him. But the great thing about him is he never complained about it.

"He just went ahead and did his work."