NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As the horn sounded on South Florida’s 58-44 win against the men’s basketball team in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 16, Temple fans could only sit back and wonder, “What happened?”
There was a time this season when it looked like this Temple team could go as far into the NCAA tournament as any had in the past.
On Feb. 20, Temple was hot off a 10-game winning streak in which it was outscoring opponents by 13.9 points per game on average. Temple’s full potential was put on display in an 85-72 thrashing of Xavier at home on Feb. 11. The Musketeers couldn’t find an answer for redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore, who scored 30 points in a game in which Temple led by as much as 23.
The Owls were rewarded with a No. 22 ranking in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls nine days after the Xavier win, the first time they were ranked in the Top 25 all season.
Under the microscope of national attention, Temple just flat out didn’t play as well as it had in the previous 10 games.
The Owls escaped with an 80-79 overtime win at La Salle in the first game following their Top 25 ranking to increase their winning streak to 11, but only after they squandered a seven-point lead with less than two minutes left in regulation.
Three days later at St. Joseph’s, Temple blew an opportunity to win the Big 5 outright. Instead, the Owls lost to the Hawks, 82-72, and shared the Big-5 title with St. Joe’s, the same team they blew out, 78-60, at home on Jan. 28 during their 11-game winning streak.
Against Massachusetts on Feb. 29, Temple squandered another lead late, this time a 10-point advantage with two minutes remaining, to send the game into overtime, where the Owls trailed by as much as six before battling back to win, 90-88.
Coach Fran Dunphy said after the UMass game that he hopes that his team is one that finds a way to win, but the truth is that these games shouldn’t have been that close to begin with.
After blowing out Fordham, 80-60, to clinch the A-10 regular season title, Temple gave itself a chance to get back into the right mindset before the A-10 tournament. Instead, the top-seeded Owls took whatever momentum they had heading into the postseason and spoiled it in a bad 77-71 loss to No. 8 UMass in their first game of the tournament.
Moore, who was a favorite to win the A-10 Player of the Year award mid-February, didn’t seem to have the same kind of killer instinct down the stretch as he did towards the middle of the season.
Moore scored 20 points or more six times and averaged 19.8 points per game while leading the A-10 in scoring during the Owls’ 11-game winning streak. He failed to reach the 20-point mark at any point during Temple’s last eight games, averaging 12.6 points per game and losing the spot as the A-10’s top scorer to St. Bonaventure senior forward Andrew Nicholson, who went on to win A-10 Player of the Year.
Moore turned the ball over six times in Temple’s loss to UMass in the A-10 tournament and shot 2-for-10 for only five points against USF in the Owls’ loss in the NCAA tournament, his last game at Temple.
Temple’s seniors as a whole did not have a good showing in their final game on Friday, March 16. Senior guard Juan Fernandez took just two shots and scored only point against the Bulls, while graduate center Micheal Eric scored seven points in 36 minutes.
Fernandez and Moore, the same two players who scored 23 points each in Temple’s win against Penn State in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, couldn’t do anything offensively against USF. Overall, the three seniors, combined to shoot 5-for-18 from the floor in the loss to the Bulls, combining for just 13 points.
“It’s an unbelievably abrupt ending for these kids,” Dunphy said after the loss. “It’s a right of passage for a senior to take a step back and now it’s all over and what do you do? The finality of it all is staggering.”
While Moore and Fernandez had unquestionably great careers, and very good senior seasons, as always, players will be remembered for how they finish their careers.
For these seniors, their careers ended in shocking disappointment.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.