ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – After the final horn sounded Saturday night, after the fans had rushed the Boardwalk Hall hardwood, and after four roller-coaster seasons, Mark Tyndale and Chris Clark found each other amid a sea of celebration.
There was no hesitation. Not even for a second.
The Philadelphia natives ran straight toward one another and simultaneously leaped straight into the air, bumping chests.
To witness the 5-foot-8 Clark jump that high was pretty impressive. But so was the conclusion to the latest chapter of their Temple careers.
Now, the senior guards have one final chapter to write. And it’s the chapter they’ve been waiting to write since they first stepped foot on this campus as freshmen four years ago.
It’s the story of their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, a story that will begin Thursday in Denver when the 12th-seeded Owls face No. 5 Michigan State in the first round.
It’s a story that for a long time looked like it might never be told. But they can finally place their names alongside Aaron McKie, Marc Jackson and Lynn Greer – Philly guys who led their respective Temple teams to the Big Dance.
“I’ve been a Temple fan almost all my life,” Tyndale said. “When I got here, I just wanted to get to the Tournament and that’s what I did. … I can’t describe this feeling. It’s a great feeling. I’m just so happy.”
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time, trying to get to the Atlantic Ten [Conference] Finals and win it all,” Clark said.
That’s what it took for the Owls to make their first NCAA Tourney appearance since 2001 – winning the A-10 tournament to secure its reward, an automatic bid. It’s a scenario the Owls played themselves into in each of these seniors’ four years.
But if that were the pinnacle of the guards’ struggles, their story wouldn’t be nearly as remarkable.
For Tyndale, the personal hurdles were numerous. He couldn’t harness his intensity. He missed the first half of his junior season while academically ineligible. He struggled to grasp the importance of team basketball and shut-down defense.
For Clark, the difficulties were less dramatized, but they were there.
Playing behind future NBA guard Mardy Collins, Clark didn’t receive much playing time during his first two years. Not only that, his effectiveness was constantly questioned once the little man actually got onto the court.
“I never lost confidence, I always believed in myself,” Clark said. “My teammates believed in me. I was just talking to Mardy about it. Mardy, he knew I could do it. I just needed time and patience. That’s what it’s about, sacrificing.”
There were also the obstacles Tyndale and Clark faced together. Former coach John Chaney’s early morning practices. Adjusting to coach Fran Dunphy, his offense and – even more so – his defense. Missing the postseason completely last year. Those darn Saint Joseph’s Hawks.
For a time, it appeared as if the guards’ NCAA dream would be just that – a dream. They would be handed the same fate as Collins – a perennial ticket to the NIT, less affectionately known as the Junior Prom.
After the Owls finished 12-18 just one year ago, Clark said he would have laughed if someone told him he’d eventually be a part of March Madness.
“I would have said, ‘Stop playing, you’re lying, man,’” Clark said. “I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Even in January, it didn’t seem likely. After losing to Duke, the Owls were just 6-7 and staring at a conference schedule packed with talented teams. But during that loss to Duke, something clicked, and the Owls went 15-5 the rest of the way.
“I think the two seniors, Chris Clark and Mark Tyndale, deserve an unbelievable amount of credit for the way they carried themselves throughout the year,” Dunphy said.
Tyndale put the Owls on his back during the homestretch, averaging 16.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.44 steals against A-10 opponents.
Clark became the epitome of a role player, hitting big shots when needed, dishing the ball to an open teammate, and even asking to be removed from the starting lineup on Senior Night so the team’s flow wouldn’t be interrupted.
Suddenly, the Owls found themselves playing in the A-10 Final, an automatic NCAA berth on the line. Clark and Tyndale could nearly grasp their dream.
Chaney might have instructed them to “Be the dream.” They did.
Tyndale only scored eight points, but he reeled in nine rebounds and tallied seven assists. He notched two steals, one block, and finished the game without a turnover.
Clark hit two clutch three-pointers. One trimmed Temple’s deficit to seven, seconds before halftime. The other gave the Owls the lead for good.
“It was just a great feeling,” Tyndale said after the win. “I would love for them guys to experience it again next season.”
For Tyndale and Clark, there is no next season.
This is their One Shining Moment.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.