JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Temple coach and Hall of Famer John Chaney stressed one thing at the Selection Show last Sunday – to win even one game in the NCAA Tournament, the No. 5-seeded Owls would have to limit their turnovers.
“The team that makes errors in a game like that, the team that throws the ball away, a team that has turnovers, can’t win a game,” Chaney said.
In the first half of Friday afternoon’s game against No. 12-seeded Cornell, Temple looked jittery, taking quick 3-pointers instead of working the shot clock and failing to make its usual crisp passes. The Owls’ tight play would continue all day, as the No. 12 men’s basketball team dropped a 78-65 decision to the Cornell Big Red in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The Big Red won their first NCAA Tournament game ever and became the first Ivy League team to win a NCAA game since Princeton in 1998. The Big Red’s win snapped Temple’s 10-game winning streak and their own 18-game losing streak against Top 25 teams.
“Going into the game, I think our mentality was we wanted to be the toughest team,” Cornell senior guard Louis Dale said. “We just wanted to – we knew that it was going to be a hard-fought game, and that we just needed to stay poised and be tough. I think we were really just ready to go as far as being loose for the game.”
The Owls (29-6) turned the ball over nine times in the first half, and the Big Red (28-4) converted those turnovers into 15 points. Entering the first-round game, Temple averaged 10.5 turnovers per game. Quick, missed shots also led to the Big Red’s 4-0 advantage in the fastbreak and a 37-29 lead at halftime.
“I thought we made some really foolish mistakes in the first half,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought we had some decent looks. We did not shoot it great in the first half, but our numbers are not bad [50 percent from the field].” We turned it a few too many times, [though].”
Temple controlled the tip and led early, 5-2, but Cornell went on a 17-6 run to take an 11-point lead at 22-11. The Big Red never looked back, and the Owls never had a lead for the rest of the game.
A 7-0 run by Temple cut the deficit to 22-18, but as was the case all day, the Big Red responded. Every time Temple would get the game back into a manageable situation – trailing by four or five points – Cornell answered.
The Big Red shot 68.4 percent from the field in the first half and outrebounded the Owls, 11-7. Junior forward Lavoy Allen had one rebound in the first 20 minutes. Three seniors – Dale, forward Ryan Wittman and center Jeff Foote – led the way for Cornell in scoring in the first half. Senior guard Ryan Brooks and sophomore guard Juan Fernandez led the way for the Owls with eight points each at the break. Brooks had a chance to cut into Cornell’s halftime lead but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We needed to score a little bit more, a little bit better at the end of the first half,” Dunphy said. “I thought we had a couple of decent looks at the rim [but] didn’t get it to go down.”
Temple came out of the break on its patented second-half run that has become expected as of late. The Owls scored on eight of their first nine possessions of the half but could only cut the deficit as close as six points at 48-42 with 15 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the game. And as Temple went on its run to start the second half, so did the Big Red. Cornell connected on three straight 3-pointers to open the latter 20 minutes of the game, and with the lead down to six points, Wittman hit his third straight 3 to build the lead back up to 51-44. On the ensuing Big Red possession, sophomore guard Chris Wroblewski made a layup and the foul shot, which increased the lead back to double digits, where it would stay the rest of the game.
“I thought we battled for the most part, and then the early part of the second half when Wittman goes on that little run, I thought that if we were going to make a run, that kind of stemmed the tide for us a little bit for us,” Dunphy said. “We’re trying to get back into the game, and he’s not allowing it. A couple of those jumpers by Wittman [were with] no time and no space. They were just catch and shoot. Sometimes there’s no defense for that. We just could never get over the hump. Every time they needed a big basket, they got it.”
“Yeah, I just kind of got in a rhythm for a few possessions there,” Wittman said. “I’ve got to give credit to my teammates to set great screens to get me open. I think as the game kind of wore on, all our shooters kind of found a little more daylight [the Big Red finished 9-for-23 overall from the 3-point line but connected on 7-of-16 in the second half.].”
Brooks and Fernandez finished with 14 points each to lead the Owls, and Allen added 11 points and five rebounds to become the first Owl to average a double-double since Ollie Johnson accomplished the feat in the 1970-1971 season.
Temple finished with 11 turnovers. The Owls shot 51.9 percent for the game, the first time they have lost this season when shooting better than 40 percent from the field. Cornell shot 56.3 percent from the field for the game, the third opponent to shoot 50 percent or higher against the Owls this season. The other two – Richmond and Kansas – also beat the Owls.
Game Notes: Donahue earned his first win against Dunphy in 13 tries…Dunphy falls to 1-12 overall in the NCAA Tournament. He has lost 12 consecutive Tournament games…Cornell improves to 4-0 against Atlantic Ten Conference teams this season. The Big Red had already defeated La Salle, Massachusetts and Saint Joseph’s…Cornell’s 28th win ties the Big Red with the 1970-1971 Penn team for the most wins in a season by an Ivy League team…Former Owl and All-American Mark Macon was spotted in the Temple portion of the crowd, as was Dr. Darlene Brooks, Ryan Brooks’ mother and a professor in the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.