With a minute left in Temple’s matchup against No. 12 Illinois, a noticeable draft of wind shot through the few fans still in attendance at the Palestra.
A majority of the crowd had exited and left a chill throughout the modestly sized arena.
Because the game had been decided in the first half and Temple was on the short end.
Coming off their humiliating loss to Villanova, the extra week of practice didn’t seem to do any good for the Owls.
Temple (0-2) suffered its second straight loss, this time to Illinois (3-0), 75-60, in front of 6,194 fans.
Last year the Owls started out 0-5 before netting their first win. Coming into this season they were hoping to avoid another slow start. Temple has lost its first two games by an average of 20 points.
This has not been the way the Owls expected to kick off the season.
“We just wanted to let everyone know that the Villanova game was a fluke,” senior David Hawkins said. “And let the nation know we can play with Top 25 teams, but it just didn’t work out like that.”
Temple coach John Chaney wasn’t bothered by the loss. He was more rankled with the tepid play of sophomores Mardy Collins and Antywane Robinson.
Collins shot poorly against the Illini’s quicker guards, while Robinson failed to establish himself in the post.
“I was very upset with a player like Mardy Collins, who allowed a kid to get underneath him,” Chaney said of the Temple guard, who struggled against a shorter and quicker guard in Illinois’ Dee Brown.
Chaney added that right now he’s lost confidence in Collins.
In two games Collins has shot 7 of 27. Many of those misses have been uncontested jumpers or in the paint when Collins penetrates inside.
Collins said he’s a little unsure of what to do during some plays because he’s used to playing the point. He’s had a tough adjustment since the arrival of freshman point guard Mario Taybron.
“Yeah, it’s a real bad start,” Collins said, who plans on using extra practice to get his rhythm back. “Just keep getting in the gym, shoot extra shots, get into practice early.”
Playing its first road game of the season, Illinois looked unfazed and was led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year sophomore point guard Dee Brown. At 6-feet with lightning speed, Brown had few problems against Temple’s struggling matchup zone.
Brown totaled 16 points and five assists. Fellow sophomore guard Deron Williams had 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting and junior forward Roger Powell had 19 points and 10 rebounds.
It was the second straight game the Owls allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent as Illinois connected on 53 percent of their shots.
Temple finished the day at just 39 percent.
Similar to Temple’s loss against Villanova, Illinois opened the game hitting shots early. Two minutes into the contest Illinois was already up 11-1.
Hawkins and sophomore center Keith Butler drew two fouls each in the first five minutes of play. In most circumstances Chaney would sit any player with two fouls until halftime, but he desperately needed both of them. By the 11-minute mark both had checked back into the game.
With eight minutes to play in the first half the Illini lead grew to 29-12 as the Owls misfired on 13 of their first 16 shots. Gradually the Owls chipped away as Taybron stole a pass and raced down court for a lay-up, his first career field goal, cutting the deficit to 12 as time expired.
The Owls shot just 26 percent in the first half.
Temple would not get any closer. Twice the Owls cut the deficit to 12, but Illinois responded each ensuing possession. Brown and junior guard Luther Head hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the game out of reach, 69-48, with four minutes left to play.
Defensively the Owls could not get in sync. Chaney was very critical of Robinson’s ineffective play. Robinson finished with just four points, six rebounds, and three turnovers. Robinson was constantly getting beat on the boards.
As a team the Owls were out-rebounded 37-24.
“We started with Antywane up top [in the zone],” Chaney said. “But he wasn’t aggressive enough, so we put him in the back and he wasn’t aggressive enough there. I just don’t have enough firepower on this ball team. I mean David [Hawkins] can’t carry us for the rest of the season, I mean he is one great player there is no question about it. He’s one of the great players that I’ve had. There’s something inside of him that just won’t quit.”
Hawkins was the lone bright spot. He shot 10 of 18 for 28 points and two steals. In addition, the return of Butler, who suffered a sprained ankle a week before the start of the season, was a promising sign. He played 32 minutes with eight points, three rebounds, and three blocks.
Chaney was encouraged by Butler’s progress and Hawkins’ tenacity. Now he has to figure out what’s wrong with the rest of his squad. Chaney said expects his team to lose until January, when his squads usually begin to turn things around.
Collins isn’t interested in another harrowing rough start like last year.
“This is weighing on me big,” he said, “I don’t want to get off to a start like that. It’s hard to get out of that hole and we’re trying to tell the young guys that.”
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at email@example.com