Mark Tyndale’s layup with 4:11 remaining had the Liacouras Center crowd roaring Saturday.
Down by 3, the Owls could see their way back into a game that seemed out of reach shortly into the second half.
But it wasn’t to be.
Though the Owls inched their way back into the game, a 19-point deficit was too much to overcome. The Rams escaped the Liacouras Center with an 85-77 victory and an Atlantic Ten Conference best 5-1 record.
The Owls fell to 1-4.
“I don’t think we’re a 1-4 team at all,” said Christmas, who notched a career-best 31 points. “I think we’re supposed to be at the top of the A-10 too. It’s tough right now.”
“I’m just tired of losing,” senior Dustin Salisbery said. “We had a big win [over Saint Louis Wednesday] and then we lose this game. It’s just hard. I hate to lose.”
The Rams (12-8 overall) dominated the offensive glass in the first half and hit nearly 60 percent of their shots to take a 44-29 lead into halftime.
Not much changed in the early minutes of the second half. A Jimmy Baron three-pointer gave the Rams’ their largest lead of the game, at 50-31.
Then, something clicked.
“We knew that we couldn’t afford another loss,” Christmas said. “In the beginning, we looked a little dead out there. It kicked in that we couldn’t afford another loss.
“We just started playing defense, starting playing hard, started playing together and helping each other out on the offense and the defense.”
Tyndale scored eight of his 12 points over the next five minutes to bring the Owls within 12, at 57-45. Christmas and Salisbery each added treys.
With the Rams continuing to hit their shots, Christmas began to chisel away at the lead. He connected for 10 points in under four minutes to bring the Owls within six, at 67-61. It was the closest they had been to the Rams since the game’s initial minutes.
The Rams stretched their lead to nine, but Tyndale capped an 8-2 run with his layup to cut the lead to 73-70 with 4:11 left.
The Rams regained their stroke and put together their own 8-2 run to put the game out of reach with 59 seconds remaining.
“We came back, fought hard,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “But again, it’s just too little, too late.”
The Owls travel to the Palestra Wednesday to take on Penn (10-6), the squad Dunphy left last spring to become the Owls’ coach. Dunphy became the first coach to head two Big 5 schools.
The Owls have not faired well in the Big 5 thus far, losing to Villanova and Saint Joseph’s. They also lost to Drexel, which is not a Big 5 school despite being located in Philadelphia.
The Quakers, led by seniors Mark Zoller and Ibrahim Jaabar, are 1-1 in Big 5 action.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.