After a tumultuous week in which the Owls suffered their third straight loss, Temple’s Atlantic 10 Conference tournament chances have become more bleak than ever.
With just four games remaining in the regular season coming into last week, Temple (12-15, 5-7 A-10) was two wins away from solidifying a conference tournament berth. However, the Owls dropped a heartbreaker on Feb. 20 against Xavier and then lost a well-fought battle to A-10 juggernaut No. 14 Dayton on Sunday, Feb. 24.
“Right now we’re fighting for our lives, and we know that,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We know that we have to win basketball games just to make the conference tournament.”
“Right now we’re fighting for our lives, and we know that. We know that we have to win basketball games.”
—Tonya Cardoza / Coach
On paper, the match-up against the Musketeers (11-15, 5-7) at McGonigle Hall appeared to be the Owls’ best chance of salvaging a game to close out the regular season. But, as Cardoza pointed out, Temple has had a tendency to play down to its opponents.
In the 54-53 loss, Temple committed costly turnovers in the game’s waning minutes, ultimately resulting in the Musketeers’ game winning layup with six seconds remaining and sophomore point guard Tyonna Williams’ missed buzzer beater down the other end.
Temple didn’t present the same fire and intensity that it did when it took St. Joe’s to overtime in the previous game, Cardoza said.
“This year, ‘paper’ doesn’t mean anything,” Cardoza said. “Because people feel like they can come in here and beat us and we’ve been an up-and-down team depending on who we play. The [Xavier] game was there to be taken. I felt like we didn’t want it as much as they did, and that’s not good.”
Four days later, that aforementioned fire and intensity was evident against first-place Dayton (24-1, 12-0 A-10), but the Flyers simply proved to be too much for the Owls to handle. With roughly 12 minutes remaining in the game, Temple found itself trailing by five on the road to the No. 12 ranked team in the nation. However, Dayton eventually pulled away and closed out Temple by a score of 67-47.
Cardoza’s squad was once again plagued by turnovers, committing 26 giveaways while forcing 12. The Owls were able to cut their deficit to single digits on multiple occasions thanks in part to a 41 percent shooting night, compared to Dayton’s 42 percent.
“I felt like [Dayton] just had too much,” Cardoza said. “We made too many mistakes, and they capitalized on those mistakes. We fought for the first 30 minutes. We were down, we found a way to dig ourselves out of it, but they just had too much.”
Temple’s magic number has been stuck at two ever since it knocked off last place Rhode Island on Feb. 13. Now, with just two games remaining, the Owls are stuck in neutral and may need some serious help from a few A-10 counterparts if they wish to prolong their season.
A frustrating season has perhaps taken the biggest toll on senior center Victoria Macaulay. Choking back tears following the loss to Xavier, it was clear she felt the pressure to help turn things around and avoid missing out on the conference tournament.
“We’re basically just losing our heads [toward the end of games],” Macaulay said. “Careless…careless turnovers.”
With the Owls currently in ninth place and the Top 12 teams advancing to the conference tournament, Temple holds tiebreakers against eighth place Richmond and 11th place Saint Louis. Xavier, currently the No. 10 seed, and La Salle, the No. 12 seed, hold tiebreakers against Temple, however.
An away game against sixth place Butler on Feb. 27 and a home game against third place Fordham on March 3 could signify five straight losses for the Owls to close out the season. As they continue to hold on by a thread, they realize they may need some help this final week.
“They know the situation,” Cardoza said. “They don’t want to be the team that doesn’t make the tournament, I know that they’re going to come out and fight. That’s definitely not going to be a question.”
But will they be peeking at the scores of the teams they’re up against?
“We’re not really concentrating on that type of stuff,” Williams said. “We don’t look at things like that simply because we don’t want to think that we can take days off. We’re not going to look at any standings; we’re just going to concentrate on Butler and Fordham.”
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TySablich.