CINCINNATI – About 15 minutes after being ousted from the Atlantic Ten tournament, the men’s basketball team had abandoned its U.S. Bank Arena locker room.
The Owls had quickly showered, then packed their belongings silently to board the team bus.
Coach John Chaney said the feeling in the locker room “certainly [was] not upbeat; it’s sad.” The trip home to Philadelphia was undoubtedly quiet, as well.
The Owls experienced emotional highs and lows over their three-day run at the A-10 tournament. Taming the No. 6 team in the country, George Washington, was no easy task, but just over 24 hours later, Saint Joseph’s outside shooting dashed the ninth-seeded Owls’ chances at the A-10 Championship.
All that was left for the Owls, Chaney said, was a berth into the National Invitational Tournament and the coach’s talk with his players on next season.
“We will [have met] on Sunday and [have written] out prescriptions for them for next year,” Chaney said. “They’ll get back to class and do what they have to do in class.”
Chaney appeared distraught during his press conference after the Owls’ loss to St. Joe’s. In Chaney’s final game as coach, he was clearly choked up when he spoke of the Owls’ tournament finale and his four-year starter Mardy Collins.
Collins averaged well below his regular season scoring output at the A-10 tourney, but he did so much more to make up for his lacking point totals.
He constantly dished until he found an open teammate.
He rebounded with authority against players who exceeded his 6-6 frame.
He created opportunities on the offensive end with his steals.
The loss to the Hawks, until Sunday’s NIT announcement, appeared to be Collins’ last game in a Temple uniform.
“He played like a champion,” Chaney said of his point guard. “… In my opinion, he is one of the many, many [great] guards that we have had. And there are some great guards. He’ll be listed as one of our best guards in all of my years and certainly in years gone by.”
The Owls’ two-win effort at the A-10 tournament capped off their attempt to make the 65-team NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2001. Their 29-point win over Rhode Island in the opening round led to a match-up with GW, the tournament’s top-seed with just one loss all season.
Afterward, the players’ feelings about their play at the A-10 tournament were not dismal. They were pleased with how they had performed. Had the Owls put a bit more defensive pressure on the ball against the Hawks, Collins said, they might have won. Sophomore guard Mark Tyndale wasn’t as reproachful as Collins.
“We shot well from the outside in our first two games, but when we don’t do that like we did [Friday], we suffer,” Tyndale said. “It was just one tough shooting night, that’s all.”
The non-conference wins were there to garner the attention of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The Owls had beaten previously ranked opponents like Alabama and Maryland. They had beaten Miami and South Carolina, both Tournament hopefuls, and put up a fight against top-ranked Duke.
Then they beat the Colonials in the A-10 tourney, their biggest win since beating No. 1 Cincinnati in Feb. 2000.
But the Owls had their flaws, too. They were a .500 ball club against conference teams, punctuated by their 34-point effort in a blowout loss at Massachusetts. They went 4-9 in games away from the Liacouras Center. In February and March, months in which Chaney-led Temple teams used to cruise, the Owls posted a 4-6 record.
They have missed the NCAA Tournament for five seasons in a row, but their successive postseason run has stretched to 23 seasons with their latest NIT invite.
“I’m not even thinking about [the NIT] really,” Chaney said. “I’m very happy that our team here [in Cincinnati] could win two ball games.”
The 40-team NIT bracket, announced Sunday night, has the seventh-seeded Owls taking on eighth-seeded Akron tonight in a play-in game at the Liacouras Center at 7 p.m.
The Zips (22-9) lost to Toledo last week in the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinals. With a balanced offensive attack, the Zips are adept at scoring. Five players averaged at least eight points and Akron led the MAC with a 73-point scoring average.
Akron has received significant contributions from a junior duo. Guard Dru Joyce averaged 10.5 points and five assists while forward Romeo Travis led the Zips with 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Tonight’s NIT showdown could be considered a warm-up for the Owls’ 2006-07 schedule. Per an agreement between Temple and the MAC, the men’s basketball team will play as few as four MAC teams and as many as six next season. The MAC becomes the official home of the Temple football team in 2007.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.