ATLANTIC CITY – The men’s basketball team’s locker room was a solemn scene last Wednesday night.
Mark Tyndale, Chris Clark and Semaj Inge sat on scattered benches, heads down and eyes staring blankly at the ground.They sensed their 66-62 loss to Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament
was the season’s end. It was.
For the first time in 24 years, there will be no postseason tournament bid for Temple. As expected, Sunday night’s National Invitation Tournament bids came and went without the Owls being announced.
The Owls finished 12-18 overall, their first losing season since John Chaney’s inaugural season in 1982-83. Their 6-10 A-10 record and 11th place finish were program lows.
“There were no preconceived expectations
for me,” coach Fran Dunphy said after the Owls’ season-ending loss. “Coming in with my eyes wide open, I thought it was a terrific opportunity for me, personally. I enjoyed coaching these guys.
“I wish we could have played a little bit better throughout a number of stretches this season, but I look forward to moving ahead.”
The Owls had some streaky stretches this season. After dropping the season’s first two games, the Owls won five of the next six. Then they lost five straight and eight of nine to hold a 7-12 record, including a 1-4 A-10 mark.
But they bounced back, stringing four straight victories together. With a 5-5 conference record, they were in fifth place. But they dropped five of their last six games to creep into the A-10 tournament with the 11th seed.
“Last season and this year, we were up and down,” sophomore Dionte Christmas said. “We know some games we came out sluggish and some games we came out with intensity. We know we have to come out every game with intensity and be ready to play. Every game. That’s all I can take from this season.”
The Owls also were streaky within games, as they struggled to put a strong 40 minutes together. Several times they suffered scoreless stretches late in games. That’s what did them in against the Hawks in the A-10 tournament, despite playing perhaps their best defensive game of the season.
“It was our best defensive effort, probably,” Dunphy said. “For the most part, I thought we guarded about as good as we can get, but we’ve got to get better at it as the years go on.”
Dunphy brought a man-to-man defensive
style with him from Penn. For players accustomed to playing under Chaney’s infamous matchup zone, it took time to adjust. The Owls finished 10th in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 74.3 points per game.
Post play was also a season-long struggle
for the Owls, but they played one of their best games against the Hawks, a team that boasts three starters listed at 6-8 or higher. Behind Dion Dacons’s nine rebounds, the Owls kept pace on the glass. For much of the season, the 6-6 Dacons was the tallest Owl on the court. Dacons averaged
6.9 rebounds per game, but said he felt at times that he could have done more.
“There were some games that I felt I didn’t show up as far as doing my job,” the senior said. “But for the most part, I felt individually, I always leave it out on the court. Whether my guy has 30 [points] and they win, or whether he has no points and they lose, I felt like I left it out on the court every game.”
Though height and defense were difficult
all season, Dunphy worked wonders with the offense. Nearly every player significantly improved his shooting percentage. Mark Tyndale improved his clip by 181 points. As a team, the Owls shot .461, well above their .396 mark from a year ago.
The Owls had three players finish among the A-10’s top eight scorers. Christmas
and Tyndale finished one-and-two, the first time in the conference’s history that two teammates have ever done so.
“We’ve just got to go back to school and get ready for next season,” Christmas said.That’s the case for all but two of the Owls, as Dacons and Salisbery will graduate this spring.Following his final game, Dacons finally understood a warning Dunphy had issued to the seniors throughout the season.
“He mentioned many times about how this is our last year and it passes by quick,” Dacons said. “And he’s right. It seems like yesterday I was a freshman and now my Temple career is over.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org