The spotlight was on the men’s basketball team Saturday. The storyline – No. 1 Duke tipping off against Temple at the Wachovia Center with three potential NBA Lottery draft picks on the same floor – was hard to ignore.
With their NCAA Tournament hopes dependent on the outcome, the Owls couldn’t capitalize in their 74-66 loss to the Blue Devils. The Owls poured it on late in the game, but their efforts weren’t enough.
Duke’s win made the Owls’ journey toward an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament that much more difficult to attain.
At 15-11, the Owls have just two regular season games remaining and need some help to earn a bye in the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament.
The only logical means for the Owls to make the Big Dance for the first time since 2001 would be to win the A-10 Championship next month.
But against Duke, Mardy Collins was determined to change the tide of the Owls’ season. On a sprained foot, the senior point guard stole the show. He played up to his all-America-candidate status by finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Collins outscored Duke’s senior all-America candidates J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, who several mock NBA drafts project to be first-round picks.
Collins received some praise from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“Collins played a great game for Temple. He’s such a good player,” Krzyzewski said. “… I love Mardy Collins. He’s unflappable.”
But Collins could only do so much for the Owls. He said he was hoping one of his teammates would step up.
“I was definitely waiting for that,” he said, “but [the Blue Devils] do a good job of denying the passing lanes. I was trying to look for guys, but they weren’t open.”
Unfortunately for Collins, his teammates weren’t making their shots, either. Collins had to leave the game with seven minutes to play after a player stepped on and sprained his foot.
At the time of Collins’ exit, the Owls were making a strong push to regain the lead for the first time since the game’s initial minutes. They had gone on a 9-0 run over the game’s previous 2:10 to trim Duke’s 14-point lead to five, at 51-46.
On ESPN’s nationally televised feed, Collins was seen squirming on the Owls’ bench as a trainer tended to his lame foot.
On the court, Collins’ team was fading fast. The Blue Devils (27-1) didn’t make a shot for the remainder of the game, but they didn’t need to. They nailed 11 of their final 16 free throws to solidify the win. Collins would return with four minutes remaining, but the Blue Devils’ 65-56 lead was insurmountable.
Temple coach John Chaney said Williams determined the game’s outcome.
“You [can] try to double[-team] him as soon as he gets the ball, but we could not stop the rebounding and we could not stop the great player in Williams inside,” he said.
Williams led the Blue Devils with 23 points and 12 rebounds. The Owls’ defense slowed Duke’s Redick, who was held to 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting. His previous season-low scoring total was 15 points, which he scored against Memphis.
Though they lack an interior presence like Williams’, the Owls outscored Duke, 36-30, in the paint.
Immediately after intermission, Duke blew open its six-point lead by going on a 10-3 run. Temple had trouble keeping the game within 10 points after that. Ten minutes had elapsed in the second half and the Owls still trailed by 13, at 56-43.
A minute later, senior forward Antywane Robinson hit a three-pointer to keep it close. But Duke freshman Greg Paulus answered with a trey of his own.
In the moments following junior guard Dustin Salisbery’s mid-range field goal, Duke’s Josh McRoberts scored on a put back shot.
It seemed like the Blue Devils had an answer for each of Temple’s comeback attempts, Chaney said.
“They have so many ways to hurt you,” he said. “You can’t put your fingers on any hole to stop this team. This team is very much like Villanova, in my opinion. [They’re] one of the great teams.”
The Owls scored 15 points off Duke’s 17 turnovers. On its home floor, Temple was whistled for a season-high 28 fouls, resulting in 39 Duke free throw attempts.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.