Mardy Collins is lost. So is his team.
An (8-6) record at the midway point of his senior season is hardly where the all-America candidate wants the men’s basketball team to be.
Collins has never made it to the NCAA Tournament. He’s never enjoyed the spoils that come from winning an Atlantic Ten Conference championship.
But neither have any of his teammates.
The Owls started their season promisingly, advancing to the second round of the preseason National Invitational Tournament.
They won four of their next five games, including triumphs at home against NCAA Tournament-hopeful Miami (Fla.) and then-ranked Alabama.
Then the wheels fell off the Owls’ season, as they put together a 3-4 record over the last month. They suffered a 31-point setback at Auburn and crushing losses to nationally ranked Villanova and George Washington.
Two weeks ago, Saint Joseph’s eked out a 59-57 win at the Palestra, beating the Owls on a last-second put-back attempt.
The team’s decline following its hot start has been disappointing, Collins said.
“After that Alabama game, I thought that our guys had finally got it and that we were going to continue playing well,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s good to have runs like this because it will show the guys that we’re not that good. … We need to come out of practice and really work in the [upcoming] games.”
Beating La Salle, 68-52, on Saturday was a good start to the second half of the Owls’ season. But even a 16-point margin of victory couldn’t completely mask the team’s flaws – cold shooting and shaky defense.
After staking an 8-2 lead two minutes into the game, the Owls were rendered defenseless against the Explorers’ perimeter shooting. Explorers guard Darnell Harris hit five first-half three-pointers, including three during a 20-4 La Salle (10-4, 3-2 A-10) run that lasted five minutes.
Temple fell behind by shooting just 28 percent in the first half, but pulled to within five points, 35-30, by halftime.
In the final frame, Dustin Salisbery became unstoppable. The junior guard nailed consecutive shots from three-point range, dunked on a breakaway, and scattered a few mid-range jumpshots in between. Salisbery almost single-handedly gave the Owls a permanent lead.
Salisbery’s 23 points, including 15 in the final 20 minutes, helped the Owls outscore the Explorers, 38-17, in the second half.
The Owls have had trouble turning the corner on their losing ways, but will need to do so in a hurry if they are to become a contender for the A-10 championship. They are 3-2 in the conference, with 12 more games against A-10 teams.
Combine last night’s win at Dayton with another win Saturday at Massachusetts, and the Owls could ride that wave of momentum into next week’s important games with A-10 titan Xavier and nationally-ranked Maryland.
If the Owls are to turn around their season, Wayne Marshall will need to get conditioned. In his second season at Temple, Marshall sat out the first eight games with a medical condition. He went eight months without playing basketball and is out of shape.
Marshall said this is “not at all near” where the Owls should be halfway through the season.
“We really have to pick it up in the second half” of the season, the sophomore center said. “We have had a lot of defensive letdowns, so we have to pick that up in the second half. We have to execute on offense and make some shots. That’s what we have to do.”
To mark the Big 5’s 50th anniversary, Temple recognized 50 former men’s basketball players during halftime of Saturday’s game. Among the notable players who were recognized were John Baum and Bill Mlkvy, the program’s 10th and 11th all-time leading scorers, respectively. Former all-American and current assistant coach Mark Macon was also honored.
TEMPLE 53, DAYTON 51
It took some clutch play by Collins in the game’s final minute to send the Owls home from Dayton’s UD Arena last night with a win. At the free throw line with 20 seconds to play, Collins had a chance to put the Owls up by four. He missed his final attempt from the line. A Dayton three-pointer with nine seconds left tied the game at 51. Out of a timeout, Collins drove the lane and hit a shot in the paint with 0.9 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The Owls will try to match their season-best three-game win streak Saturday at UMass (9-6, 4-1). While the Owls are somewhat multi-faceted on offense, the Minutemen rely mostly on junior center Rashaun Freeman, who leads the team with 15.3 points per game.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.