CINCINNATI – With their heads sagging low, members of the men’s basketball team trudged off the floor of U.S. Bank Arena and into their locker room.
After playing 40 minutes of basketball, the Owls had realized that they missed out on a grand opportunity.
A win over Saint Joseph’s on Friday night and the Owls were headed to their first Atlantic Ten tournament championship since 2003. But it didn’t come that easy.
The Owls encountered offensive setbacks throughout the contest, and the Hawks took full advantage by beating their city rival, 73-59, in the A-10 tournament semifinal round. The Hawks shot a collective 49 percent from the floor, including 13-of-28 from three-point distance.
Unless the Owls earn a bid into the National Invitational Tournament, their season ends just one day after upsetting the No. 6 team in the country, George Washington. Meanwhile the Hawks move on to the A-10 title game where they will face the winner of Friday night’s other semifinal game between sixth-seeded Fordham and 10th-seeded Xavier.
At the start of the game, the Owls came out guarding the fringes of the perimeter to protect against St. Joe’s three-point attack. At times the Owls were strategically placed along the three-point line, but St. Joe’s just shot over the defenders.
Temple’s defense had a flaw and it wasn’t working.
The Hawks demonstrated that by going 8-of-17 from three-point distance, a 47-percent clip. The Owls couldn’t knock down a trey of their own, missing all six of their first-half attempts from downtown.
It wasn’t any prettier for the Owls inside the arc, though, as they shot with 28-percent efficiency through the game’s first 20 minutes. The Hawks took a 32-20 lead into halftime and never looked back.
Finding the open man and making the extra pass was a focal part of the Hawks’ game. To do so, they wound down the clock into the single digits on nearly every possession in the second half. The Hawks had 19 assists on 20 baskets.
Temple coach John Chaney said the Hawks’ outside game was too much to handle.
“[They] make shots, it’s that simple,” Chaney said. “We couldn’t stop them. We stretched our defense out so we wouldn’t let two guys [Chet Stachitas and Abdulai Jalloh] get off shots. … We dug a hole for ourselves.”
After the game St. Joe’s guard Dwayne Lee, who had seven assists, credited his team’s win to ball movement. Temple’s Mardy Collins disagreed, saying the Owls’ were ineffective on executing their defensive game plan.
“As far as defense, we didn’t pressure the ball enough,” Collins said. “…They got a lot of good shots.”
Collins put the Owls (17-14) on his shoulders in the second half. He finished with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists in what could be his last game.
Collins’ effort wasn’t enough. The Owls got to within nine points on three occasions in the second half, but had trouble pulling any closer.
“I’m going to stand up for Mardy because he played like a champion,” Chaney said, slightly choked up. “He was really at his best today, at his very best.”
For a second consecutive game, center Wayne Marshall tallied double-digit scoring, with 12 points. But aside from Collins and Marshall, no other Temple player had more than eight points.
The last time the Owls won three games in the A-10 tournament was in 2001, when an opening-round bye and three victories later they found themselves in the NCAA Tournament.
In postseason play, Temple has held the advantage over the Hawks. Heading into this one, the Owls had won all seven meetings with the Hawks (18-12) in the A-10 tournament.
It didn’t show in this contest. The Owls made only two of their 18 three-point attempts.
“We couldn’t hit the ocean,” Chaney said.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.