RALEIGH, N.C. – All the negative signs were there.
The Owls trailed Nebraska by seven points with more than 17 minutes left in the second half of their opening round NCAA Tournament game, but baskets were hard to come by.
Little by little, the Owls’ seemed to lose their composure. Loose balls didn’t go their way. Turnovers came fast and furious. Every call was going against them and the players began to show their frustration.
It looked like the Owls were headed to yet another first round NCAA Tournament loss.
But then the upperclassmen, the players who had tasted the agony of defeat in previous postseason losses, refused to let this one slip away.
The eighth-seeded Owls pulled together and squeezed out a 64-61 win over ninth-seeded Nebraska at the RBC Center Sunday to win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2005.
Temple will take on No. 1-seeded Duke (31-1) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Senior Fatima Maddox led the Owls (25-7) with 18 points and five assists. Junior Lady Comfort scored nine of her 15 points in the first 11 minutes of the game and senior Kamesha Hairston added 12 after scoring only two points in the first half.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” Hairston said. “No one thought we would have the success we are having, so it’s huge to come out and get a win in the first round.”
The Huskers (22-10) held a 59-55 lead with 2:49 remaining, when Ashley Morris hit a layup and a free throw to get the Owls within one point.
Comfort then hit a layup off of Hairston’s missed three-point attempt to give the Owls a 60-59 lead with 1:40 left.
Maddox sunk four consecutive crucial free throws to put the Owls up, 64-61, with only 20 seconds remaining.
“Those were definitely the biggest of my career,” Maddox said. “I knew I had to hit those. It could have been my last game.”
The Huskers had a chance to tie the game but senior Kiera Hardy’s last-second three-point heave sailed wide right of the rim.
With the win, coach Dawn Staley improves her NCAA Tournament record to 2-4. Under her watch, the Owls were bounced in the first round in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
But Temple has little time to celebrate this victory.
The Blue Devils, who looked strong in their 81-44 win over No. 16 Holy Cross (15-18), are standing in the way of the Owls’ path to the Sweet 16, a round that Temple has never made an appearance in.
“They are the No. 1 team for a reason,” Staley said. “They have some incredible players. They can drive to the basket and they have a low post presence.
“I like who we bring into the basketball game and I like our approach and our belief,” Staley continued. “We are going to play them like they are another basketball team and let the chips fall.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.