DENVER – In his first NCAA Tournament game, Dionte Christmas hoisted up eight three-pointers. And all eight drew everything except for the net.
One of his shots bounced so high off the rim that the ball climbed over the top of the backboard and ping-ponged through the uprights on its journey back down to the floor.
The Owls’ leading scorer misfired early and often, scoring a season-low three points as the fifth-seeded Michigan State Spartans closed the lid on No. 12 Temple’s season with a 72-61 win at the Pepsi Center Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans (26-8) snapped Temple’s seven-game winning streak and will move on to face No. 4 Pittsburgh in a second round South Regional match-up.
For the Atlantic Ten Conference champion Owls (21-13), the run is over.
“We came out here to do a job,” Christmas said. “Tonight, we didn’t get it done.”
Michigan State went ahead, 37-26, on senior Drew Naymick’s second-half opening dunk and never let the lead drop below 10 points after that.
Sophomore Raymar Morgan scored 15 points, missing only two of his nine shots – several of which, were uncontested dunks – to lead the Spartans.
“I just tried to stay aggressive throughout the whole game,” Morgan said.
With the Owls focused on three-point threat, senior Drew Neitzel, freshman Chris Allen and senior Drew Naymick both finished in double-figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
In his final game at Temple, senior Mark Tyndale scored a team-high 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists in a losing effort. Freshman Lavoy Allen secured his first career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Ryan Brooks notched 14 points off the bench.
For the majority of the game, the Spartans defense sullied Christmas and his “one-two punch” partner, Tyndale. While Christmas shot just 1 of 12 from the field, Tyndale managed to finish 6 of 14 from the floor, although most of his baskets came when the Owls were trailing by double-digits in the second half.
“We couldn’t run a lot of our [offensive] sets,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I think that’s a tribute to how [Michigan State] plays the game and how difficult they are to score against.”
Indeed, easy baskets were hard to come by, especially early on. Temple shot 29 percent from the field in the first half and only 37 percent for the game.
Even when the Owls got solid looks at the basket, shots didn’t fall.
Trailing 44-28 with 13 minutes, 53 seconds to go, Tyndale ferociously drove down the lane for a dunk only to have the ball go halfway down and then pop out.
Later in the game, Christmas stood wide-open underneath the basket, wildly waving his arms, jumping up and down and calling for the ball. But it never got to him.
The frustration was clear.
“That’s a great defensive team. That’s probably the toughest defensive team I’ve played against all year,” Christmas said before pausing and changing his answer to “all my career.”
The Owls suffered a five-minute, 45 second scoring draught to fall behind, 22-15, with 6:06 remaining in the first half.
Michigan State’s advantage ballooned to 13 points before Brooks caught fire. He scored the Owls next eight points on a pair of three-pointers and an 18-foot jumper to cut the lead down to 32-25 with 1:14 left before intermission.
But despite several opportunities, Christmas and the rest of the Owls couldn’t piece together a complete comeback effort in the second stanza.
“We knew that if we didn’t guard Christmas, we’d be going home,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Instead, it’s the Owls who are going home.
And, for seniors Tyndale and Chris Clark, it’s the end of the road.
Clark, who only played 13 minutes, sat on the bench next to his dejected teammates, for the final minutes of the contest.
“The guy I felt most sorry for was Chris Clark,” Dunphy said. “He’s meant so much to our program and he didn’t get a chance to play later in the game and I would’ve loved to have gotten him in the game.
“For me, that was the most difficult hug to make.”
After the final buzzer sounded and the teams shook hands, Tyndale untucked his jersey and slowly made his way off the court. By himself – well behind his teammates.
As he approached the tunnel, a fan shouted, “Best of luck, man.”
Tyndale looked up, put his hand to his forehead and saluted the tiny Temple fan section before he disappeared from view.
“Coach Dunphy did a great job of getting us back to this point where we deserved to be,” Tyndale said about the Owls first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2001.
“We weren’t surprised at all about the outcome of our season,” he said. “We would have liked to play a little bit longer, but unfortunately our season ends here.”
With the loss, Temple coach Fran Dunphy drops to 1-10 in NCAA Tournament play. Temple is now 31-26 all-time in the Big Dance … In their last NCAA tournament appearance, Temple lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight in 2001 … Freshman Lavoy Allen made the first three-pointer of his career at about the 18:30 mark in the first half. He sank a second three with 1:06 left in the game. Allen was previously 0-3 from behind the line before today’s game.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo by Ron Davis)