The pain was evident.
Players took their customary “good game” lap around the Liacouras Center after the final horn sounded – some gazing at the ceiling, others stone-faced in silence – while one or two coaches and fans gave an appreciative applause for the fight.
Smiles were few on the Temple side, tensions were high and frustration etched on the faces of each player and coach saddled with the weight of another one-possession loss in Saturday afternoon’s 72-69 defeat to South Florida.
“You don’t understand how frustrated I am right now,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We’ve been so close in so many games and for us to be in this situation knowing that one or two plays could’ve made a difference, that’s the most frustrating thing.”
This latest loss saw the Owls hold the lead for the majority of the first half and entirely for the first 10 minutes of the second.
Then the recent second-half woes began to set in again with missed opportunities, as the Owls failed to cover Bulls senior guard Courtney Williams, who burned Temple with 35 points.
And yet, Temple fired back and knotted the score at 69 with 45 seconds left when freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald drove in the lane and dished off a pass to junior guard Rateska Brown in the corner, who hit a 3-pointer.
The majority of the 803 fans in attendance came to their feet, as did the Owls’ bench.
Failure to score on their next possession came back to hurt them, as the Owls could only watch as Williams sank three buckets from the charity stripe in the waning seconds to seal a game the Owls believed they could win.
They thought they had the Cincinnati game last Saturday, too, when Temple held a three-point advantage at home with less than a minute remaining against a Bearcats team of lesser standing.
A three-pointer from junior guard Alyesha Lovett and two later Cincinnati free throws iced it as the Bearcats (12-15, 5-11) escaped with a 55-53 win at McGonigle Hall.
“It makes you think back on it sometimes,” Fitzgerald said. “You wish you didn’t make that one mistake in a game that could’ve made a difference.”
“If you look at our record, we’re better than a 12-14 team,” Cardoza said. “6-9 in the conference, we’re better than that. We have to learn how to win basketball games. We’ve been in so many close games, and we just don’t know how to win them right now.”
A 60-50 loss at No. 4 Louisville on Feb. 12 was far closer than the score indicates. An 85-75 loss to Southern Methodist Feb. 1 featured the Owls hold an 11-point advantage in the first half, only to relinquish a 15-0 run to the Mustangs in the second half.
The Owls fell to Rutgers, the third-place team in The American, by a six-point margin on Jan. 25. Three days prior, they failed to close out a Big 5 contest to the University of Pennsylvania that did just as much damage to the team’s psyche as it did on paper.
Temple stayed right with Louisville in the first 15 minutes of a New Years Day clash, but then the wheels fell off in an eventual 77-68 defeat.
A one-point loss to Villanova in December and a four-point defeat that could have bounced in the other direction to a ranked Michigan State team on Nov. 26 proved to be foreshadowing tales.
“When you look at every game outside of UConn, we’ve been in every single game,” Cardoza said. “Going to Louisville and being in that game on the road there, the game here at home against Rutgers, we’ve demonstrated that we can play with every team in this conference outside of UConn.”
Clinging to the sixth spot in the conference by a game and a half above Cincinnati, the Owls will have a rematch on the road against Rutgers (20-5, 11-3 The American) Feb. 26, a team they say they can play with.
Temple will then travel to Central Florida (10-17, 3-13 The American) on March 1 before hosting Houston (5-22, 1-15 The American) to close out the regular season schedule, two teams the Owls dispatched with cruising victories earlier in the season.
The opportunity to right the ship and build some momentum before the conference tournament in Connecticut on March 6 is there.
“That’s the goal,” junior guard Tyonna Williams said. “We can’t lose anything right now. At this point in time, we have nothing to lose and we just need to give it our all.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.