Uncertainty is the word to use to describe the men’s basketball team right now.
Temple fans must feel uncertain about a team that has lost two of its past four games, including a bad loss to Massachusetts in the Owls’ first game of the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament on Friday, March 9.
Top-seeded Temple entered that matchup with No. 8 UMass less than two weeks removed from a regular season game against the Minutemen in which the Owls needed overtime to knock off the feisty UMass squad.
That game let Temple know just how dangerous UMass can be. The Minutemen run a full-court offense and defense, press relentlessly and have multiple three-point shooters.
It was UMass’ all-out style that prompted a 15-0 run in the first five minutes of the second half in the A-10 tournament quarterfinal game, a run that would ultimately decide the 77-71 outcome in the Minutemen’s favor.
During that crucial five-minute stretch, Temple laid down and let UMass back into the game. The Owls gave up on defense, allowed three UMass treys and turned the ball over six times.
“We were up four and we had poor decisions with the ball and it led to baskets down the other end and we can’t do that,” coach Fran Dunphy said after the game. “We got out of character again and that’s what happens. When we get out of character, we’re going to pay the price.”
Down the stretch, Temple needs to play like the team midway through the season that didn’t give up leads against inferior teams. For a 10-day span from Jan. 18-28, there were a combined six lead changes in Temple’s four wins against La Salle, Maryland, Charlotte and St. Joseph’s.
Now in back-to-back games against UMass, Temple has given up a lead late. In Friday, March 9’s game, the Owls paid the price. This was the worst showing at the A-10 tournament since Dunphy’s first year with the team in 2006.
“I think it’s very difficult,” redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore said after the game. “My five years being here we’ve always done a great job down here, I think this is our first time going home the first day. It hurts a lot, you know, and this is our last go-round. I wanted it as bad as anybody.”
While Moore’s dedication could never be challenged, it’s no stretch to question Temple’s resolve in the A-10 tournament game. Did the Owls look past the Minutemen, even though they nearly lost to them no more than two weeks ago? In both of the two teams games, it looked like UMass simply wanted it more.
“We really played poorly,” Dunphy said. “I felt bad for Temple, but I felt good for UMass because they outplayed us. I felt bad for Atlantic City because we let them down. It would’ve been nice to continue to play there and have our fans come. It was disappointing, and we talked about it. Hopefully it will be a renewed understanding of how important every game, every possession in every game, is.”
To compound the questions surrounding Temple’s poor showing in the A-10 tournament, even more uncertainty awaits the Owls in the NCAA tournament as Temple’s draw stipulates that the Owls won’t find out who their first-round opponent is until Wednesday.
No. 5 Temple will face the winner of the California/South Florida play-in game in the first round in Nashville, Tenn. Temple has never faced South Florida, and the Owls have only played one game, a 57-50 loss last season, against Cal since 1974.
“It’s very interesting,” Dunphy said. “We’ll have to study two really good teams over the next couple of days. But you know you’re going to play a tough team.”
“I’m not sure we’re very confident,” Moore added. “We want to try to stay humble and take it one game at a time. We want to focus on California and South Florida and then worry about other teams after that.”
Moore and his teammate, graduate center Micheal Eric, went on to say that though the loss to UMass hurt, the team got back on the right track Sunday, March 11 at practice.
“We had a great practice,” Moore said. “We got after each other. It was great to see how guys responded. I think a lot of guys put it behind and are just trying to move forward.”
“I mean that loss was pretty bad, we took it pretty hard, but we had practice today,” Eric added. “We’ll be ready for our next job at hand and I think we’ll be ready when it comes to play that game in Tennessee.”
While both Cal and USF represent challenges for Temple in their own way, Temple’s real enemy during the past week has been itself. If the Owls can limit turnovers, play defense for 40 minutes and stick to what has been effective for them all season, there’s no reason they can’t take the next step in the NCAA tournament and reach the Sweet Sixteen.
“We’re almost given a reprieve here,” Dunphy said. “We didn’t play our best against UMass the second time around and that’s disappointing. Hopefully we will be under a greater understanding of how important this next step is.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.