NEW YORK – Inside the Owls’ locker room at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday, a sockless Obi Enechionyia sat hunched over on an all-black leather chair.
With mismatching Under Armour socks between his hands, the sophomore forward wore a black T-shirt that read “Play for More.”
But for Enechionyia and his teammates, there will be no more games to play.
The University of Iowa eliminated the Owls from the first round of the NCAA tournament after a last-second shot from Iowa’s Adam Woodbury gave the Hawkeyes a 72-70 overtime victory on Friday.
“I can’t play how I played today,” Enechionyia said following the loss. “I definitely can’t do that next year. This team is going to rely on me a lot more.”
The Owls, who appeared in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013, finished the season 21-12, claiming the American Athletic Conference’s regular season championship with a 14-4 record after winning nine of their last 11 regular season games.
It was the team’s first regular-season title since winning the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012.
On their way to the conference title, the Owls won nine conference games by seven points or fewer, including victories against Tulsa and Connecticut while trailing by double-digit points in the second half.
“The biggest thing this season is all the comebacks,” Enechionyia said. “I think that says a lot about the players we have and how much of a team we are.”
Next season the team will be without seniors Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond, Devontae Watson and Devin Coleman. The four combined for 2,950 minutes during their final season as Owls and Coleman, DeCosey and Bond were three of the team’s top four scorers.
The group also combined for 339 games, 7,585 minutes and three 20-win seasons with the program.
“They’re just wonderful guys,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “And they took good care of me in their time frame at Temple University.”
Enechionyia returns next season after averaging 11 points per game this season, second on the team. Junior guard Josh Brown, first on the team in minutes per game and assists, also returns next season.
As a team, the Owls are set to return nine players, six of whom appeared in 28 or more games.
“We have to get back into the gym and regroup,” Brown said. “We have a good nucleus coming back. We are going to be missing a lot, but I think we can handle it.”
The returners include freshman Trey Lowe, who missed the team’s final five games because of injuries sustained in a single-car accident on Feb. 28.
The guard averaged 4.8 points for the Owls this season, including eight or more total points in 10 games this season.
“When Trey gets on his feet and gets healthy, he’ll come back and do a great job,” redshirt-junior guard/forward Daniel Dingle said. “We saw flashes of him scoring in bunches. I just can’t wait.”
Dunphy’s team is set to add a trio of three-star recruits—guard Alani Moore, center Damion Moore and forward Quinton Rose—according to Rivals.com.
On Thursday, Moore and Rose were selected for the 18U Team USA Select roster that will compete in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament starting Saturday in Mannheim, Germany.
For junior forward Mark Williams, the offseason will provide the Owls an opportunity to build on this season’s success.
“Everybody has to get better. Individually, people know what they have to work on,” Williams said. “Collectively, we have our team goals, we have our team systems. But all in all, everybody needs to get better, and we just need to be on the same page.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.