MIAMI—And just like that, it was over.
The men’s basketball team fell to Arizona State, 66-57, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at American Airlines Arena. The sixth-seeded Sun Devils never trailed in the contest and were fronted by junior guard Derek Glasser and senior forward Jeff Pendergraph, who both hit for 22 points.
Temple (22-12) was led by senior guard Dionte Christmas, as his 29 points and five 3-pointers were both game-highs.
The Owls were consistently down by two or three possessions for the second half, never being able to cut things to within three points outside one stretch from the 6:57 mark to the 4:45 mark. Christmas missed a 3-pointer and sophomore forward Lavoy Allen missed a jump shot in that stretch, as the Owls just couldn’t get that much-needed basket to turn the game in their favor.
“We had our moments. We had our looks,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “[But], we did not take advantage of them as we needed to in a game of this magnitude on this stage.”
The 11th-seeded Owls’ final field goal of the contest came at the 3:45 tick when junior guard Ryan Brooks dunked home an ally-oop pass from senior guard Semaj Inge which put the Owls down by five.
Brooks, who finished with seven points, had a chance to pull the Owls to within two points with 1:28 to go, but his corner 3-point attempt by the Temple bench couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
“It felt good, I thought it was good, but it hit the back iron and just popped up,” Brooks said. “It’s just really frustrating that…it didn’t go down.”
At the 45 second mark, the Owls were still down by five, but Christmas was whistled for a traveling violation.
A frustrated Christmas didn’t seem to agree with the call.
“The refs called it a walk…sometimes it comes down to that,” he said.
And sometimes it comes down to the bounce off the rim.
In Inge’s 0-10 effort, the Owls’ co-captain missed several layups and short jumpers that simply wouldn’t go down. He finished with two points and four assists in his final game in cherry and white.
“I felt like I had some good looks at the basket,” Inge said. “Some shots may have been forced, but I just couldn’t find a way to [hit baskets].”
Temple shot 37.3 percent from the field for the game and 35.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Brooks shot 3-10 from the field and 1-5 from 3-point land, while Inge shot 0-10 from the field.
“I thought we had a couple of really great looks,” Dunphy said. “The ball just did not go in the basket…it just didn’t happen for us. Some of that is us, some of that is Arizona State.”
Allen was the only other Owl in double figures, as he hit for 11 points and 10 rebounds—his 14th double-double of the season. Senior center Sergio Olmos added eight points and six rebounds, and was matched-up with Pendergraph for most of the day.
“I thought I did a good job, he got pretty much all of his points off passes,” Olmos said of his defense.
With the Sun Devils’ scoring coming mostly inside and on 3-pointers, it left little room for sophomore guard James Harden.
The Pacific-10 Conference’s leading scorer finished with nine points on 1-8 shooting. Six of his points came from the foul line.
“That’s what makes them a good team, they’re more than just James Harden,” Christmas said. “I thought Ryan Brooks did a tremendous job on him throughout the game.”
The Sun Devils went on a 15-3 run in the middle of the first half to push their lead to 13 before Dunphy signaled for timeout.
After the pep talk, the Owls responded with a 10-0 run to cut the lead to three. But, Glasser responded with two 3-pointers to close out the half, and Arizona State took a nine point lead into the locker room.
Glasser torched the Owls from beyond the arc, hitting four 3-pointers in five attempts in the first half. In all, the 6-foot-1-inch guard had 17 points at halftime.
But now, as the season is over, the focus will shift to wrapping up this year and beginning the plans for the 2009-2010 season.
“We’ll gather next week,” Dunphy said. “Thank [the seniors] for their great careers and then the rest of us will move on to try to get back here again, which is not an easy task.”
Game Notes: 30 Temple students, part of the Cherry Crusade group, bused down from campus to Miami and made themselves heard…The cheerleaders, pep band and mascot Hooter were also on hand…Sophomore forward Craig Williams played just three minutes while freshman guard Juan Fernandez played just six minutes…The Sun Devils missed six free throws in the second half to give the Owls a chance to stay in the game…Had the Owls won, they would have faced third-seeded Syracuse in the second round.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.
Front page photo: John Mehler, TTN.