The team’s pursuit of a fourth-straight A-10 title came up short.
After winning three-straight Atlantic Ten Conference championships, the men’s basketball team’s reign came to an end after losing, 58-54, in the A-10 semifinals last Saturday to a Richmond team Temple had vanquished for an A-10 title last season. The loss denied the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it could earned an at-large bid to the tournament based on the team’s résumé compiled over the course of the season.
Temple entered Atlantic City, N.J., as the No. 2 seed in the tournament and had a first-round bye before facing La Salle Friday night. Despite winning both meetings against the Explorers during the regular season, the Owls took the game seriously to avoid the fates of the tournaments No. 1 Xavier and No. 4 seed Duquesne, who both lost in the quarterfinal round of the tournament hours before Temple’s tipoff.
“I mentioned it to the team that a lot of top teams have fallen in the tournament, and I told them, ‘We don’t want that to be us,’ so we had to come out focused,” redshirt-junior guard Ramone Moore said.
The Owls were able to easily handle the Explorers for a 96-76 win by scoring 24 points off 22 turnovers over the course of the game while only having six of their own.
“It was one of those games where we were in passing lanes,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought we made some good decisions, but some of that was us, and some of that was them.”
Superior guard play also helped push the Owls past the Explorers as Moore led the team with 23 points. Sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt scored 20 points and junior guard Juan Fernandez 19 points. Senior forward Lavoy Allen had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds and freshman guard Aaron Brown brought the total number of Temple players who scored in double digits to five with 14 points.
Moving on to the semifinal round against Richmond, the game was a defensive battle from the start. Both teams shot under 40 percent in the first half of the game as Temple took a slim 31-30 lead at halftime. The Owls were unable to repeat their Feb. 17 performance against the Spiders, where they won, 73-53.
“Earlier in the season when we played them, I think we were on like a 16-0 run in the second half. That really helped us out,” Allen said. “This time around they really clamped down on defense, and they forced us to take some bad shots and rush some shots. They defended us pretty well.”
“We had three or four possessions that we were a little hurried on, [I] give Richmond credit for that,” Dunphy said. “We probably didn’t trust in one another quite as much as we have in the past, and we came up a little short.”
The difference makers for Richmond were senior forward Justin Harper and senior guard Kevin Anderson. Harper entered the postseason as the fourth-highest scorer in the A-10 by averaging 17.8 points per game and Anderson is also in the Top 10 in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game.
Anderson led the Spiders with 22 points, and Harper had 18 points and nine rebounds. On the Temple side, Wyatt led the Owls with 15 points off the bench. Lavoy had another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Moore had 11 points, and Fernandez had a career-high 10 assists to go along with seven points.
Up next, the Owls will go to Tucson, Ariz., to play Penn State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got to forget about this game,” Allen said. “I think we got to share the ball more and just play the way that we’ve been playing all year long and just get back to the way we were playing, and everything will be OK.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.