ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.–Entering Boardwalk Hall, the No. 24 Temple Owls men’s basketball team knew they had to prove themselves. After trailing by six in overtime and pulling out the win on Feb. 29 against Massachusetts at the Liacouras Center, the rematch was the highlight of the schedule in the first game of the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament in Atlantic City, N.J. But the Owls knew the Minutemen would be out for blood, looking to avenge their loss.
In this game, UMass did not need the overtime to put the Owls away as they lost to UMass 77-71, the eighth-seed Minutemen upsetting the first-seed Temple.
Missed opportunities took the Owls in a death grip in the form of turnovers, with the team committing 22 of them.
Coach Fran Dunphy said that the Owls “got out of character,” and allowed UMass to gain the momentum with quick bursts of scoring. “They scored twenty points in six minutes and obviously, we didn’t answer well.”
UMass scored 23 points off Temple turnovers in the first half, and had 19 fast-break points, which did not allow the Owls’ defense to prepare for the Minutemen.
“You got to be perfect down the stretch and that was our mistake,” redshirt senior guard Ramone Moore said.
Senior guard Juan Fernandez faulted the senior guards, saying that the leadership and experience should have allowed them to make better decisions.
The Owls struggled to contain the UMass sophomore guard Jesse Morgan, who, while held to five points in the first half, scored 14 in the second half to propel the Minutemen.
The overtime loss at Temple “gave us confidence coming into the tournament,” said Morgan, and the Minutemen capitalized on their second chance, routing the Owls.
Chaz Williams, a redshirt sophomore guard, single-handedly dominated the Owls at the Liacouras Center last week, scoring 26 points. Temple could not develop a game plan to contain the guard in rematch, and Williams netted 20 points, 10 assists, and four of the Minutemen’s 14 steals. Those 10 assists brought Williams’ season total to 207, a record for an A-10 sophomore.
“I think [Williams] plays really hard. His numbers, 10 assists and 1 turnover, are really impressive,” said Dunphy. “He’s just a really good player, a great competitor.”
“We wanted it as bad as anybody,” Moore said after the game. “It hurts a lot.”
That desperate want was not enough and the Owls could not pull out the win from the Minutemen, who snapped Temple’s streak of six straight A-10 Quarterfinal game wins.
The Owls will look towards Sunday, when the NCAA will announce the berths for the 2012 tournament. “Hopefully, we’ll get a reprieve and play more basketball this year,” Dunphy said.
Sarah Higgins can be reached at email@example.com.