Temple University men’s basketball let a golden opportunity to solidify its NCAA Tournament resume slip through its fingertips.
Temple (20-7, 10-5 American Athletic Conference) held a three-point lead against Memphis with 12 minutes, 57 seconds left in Tuesday’s game at The FedExForum. But a 12-point Memphis run slowly eliminated any hope for the Owls in an 81-73 loss to the Tigers (18-11, 10-6 The American).
Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. led Temple in scoring with 18 points but had seven turnovers. Junior guard Quinton Rose only scored six points, shooting 3-of-13. The Tigers shot 50 percent from the field, with senior guard Jeremiah Martin scoring 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
The Owls are still holding on to NCAA Tournament hopes after the loss, and are projected to be an 11 seed, according to CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi list Temple to be one of the first four teams to miss the tournament.
Tuesday’s matchup was Temple’s last opportunity this season at a Quadrant 1 victory, which is a road win against a team that is ranked in the top-75 by the NCAA Evaluation Tool ranking. The Tigers owned a No. 60 rank entering Tuesday.
A road win at Memphis would have clinched Temple a first-round bye in the conference tournament and kept the Owls in a third-place tie with Central Florida (21-6, 11-4 The American), with the first-round starting on March 14.
UCF defeated South Florida on Wednesday, allowing the Knights to gain sole possession of third place.
Temple is aware of the missed opportunity against Memphis, Rose said. The Owls can still earn a conference tournament first-round bye by winning its remaining three games, starting against Tulane at the Liacouras Center on Tuesday.
“Since conference play started we had to rack up wins,” Rose said before practice on Friday. “We’ve been playing with the mindset that saying every game is a championship game.”
Temple will finish third place in the conference if it beats Tulane, Connecticut on March 7 and UCF in the regular-season finale at the Liacouras Center on March 9.
UCF will take on nationally ranked Houston and Cincinnati before playing the Owls. Memphis is in fifth place, but only one game behind Temple. The Tigers close the season with games at Cincinnati and home against Tulsa.
“We control our own destiny in my eyes,” Alston said on Friday. “If we win, it’ll be hard to keep us out. As long as we keep winning, I think we have a chance.”
UCF defeated Temple 78-73 in the first matchup between the teams on Jan. 2 in Orlando, Florida.
Temple will host Tulane before traveling to Storrs, Connecticut to play UConn on March 7.