DAYTON, Ohio- As the Owls await their contest with North Carolina State, it would be hard for the team to ignore the familiarity that surrounds the event.
Temple (23-9, 11-5 Atlantic 10 Conference) is making its sixth-straight postseason appearance, yet has advanced to the next round just once in five previous tries. The Owls have five players in their final year of eligibility, four of which have previous NCAA tournament experience. Temple enters tournament play coming off of a loss to Massachusetts in the opening game of the A-10 tournament, the second-straight year they have done so. Temple has even played in the University of Dayton Arena-the site of tomorrow’s contest- this season, recording a one-point conference win.
Temple’s players most familiar with the environment know that they have one chance to shine, before college basketball is no longer familiar to them.
“[Tomorrow] could very well be our last game, well, my last game,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. “We want to go out there and make sure you don’t have any regrets at the end of the day. Whether you score a lot of points or you don’t, you just want to make sure that you left it all out there and that you did the most that you could to try and get your team a win.”
Among Temple’s five players in their final year of eligibility, Wyatt and senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson received significant minutes in last year’s tournament game against South Florida. Graduate guard T.J. DiLeo played 11 minutes while graduate forward Scootie Randall redshirted the season. Graduate forward Jake O’Brien, a Boston University transfer, is making his first and last NCAA tournament appearance.
“It’s a good feeling to be here,” O’Brien said. “These guys have been here the last few years and this is my first experience with this. I’m grateful to be here, but I really want to make the most of this. Just like the other four seniors, this is our last go-round. I really want to make the most of this opportunity.”
O’Brien may be taking in the sights of his first postseason stage, but Wyatt has been here before. While the senior stressed the importance of having fun and enjoying the opportunity, he also knows that a loss ends his college basketball days.
“The other times we have been here, it seems like we might be happy just to be here,” Wyatt said. “I don’t think that’s the feeling this time around. I think that’s the feeling this time around. I think guys are focused… We have five seniors on this team who don’t want their season to end yet.”
“We all have a chip on our shoulder. We have something to prove,” Randall said. “This trip is a business trip. Each and every trip was the same way… we don’t want to go home too soon. So we know we have a chance to change that, and that’s just our mindset right now.”
The chip on the senior’s shoulders is twofold. Aside from the pressure to perform and deliver a successful tournament run, the performance of last year’s seniors hasn’t been forgotten in Philadelphia. As the No. 5 seed, Temple fell to South Florida 58-44. Seniors Micheal Eric, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore combined for 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting while accounting for seven of the Owls’ 12 turnovers.
While a comparison in individual personnel cannot be made, a comparable performance from this season’s senior class would spell trouble for the team. Coach Fran Dunphy doesn’t need to be reminded of the team’s performance in last year’s dance.
“I think we have some really good veteran players,” Dunphy said. “I am not sure what I am going to see. I think that’s the big question. We need to play well, and we need to play well from the start tomorrow against a really good basketball team.”
After arriving in Dayton last night, the Owls knew the clock was ticking. A 1:40 tip-off against NC State awaits a group of players, many of which could be playing their last college game.
“We just really want to go out there and just seize the opportunity,” Wyatt said. “You’re on a national stage, and a lot of people are watching. You get a chance to show the world what you can do. You don’t get chances like that very often. So [we] just want to go out there and make the most of it.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.