MIAMI – Nobody in the Owls’ locker room was particularly happy.
They sat there eating, looking at magazines, finishing interviews, staring blankly at the wall, killing time until the bus would take them to the charter for a return flight to Philadelphia.
Just a few minutes earlier, Arizona State had eliminated the men’s basketball team from the NCAA Tournament with a 66-57 victory Friday afternoon. The Owls couldn’t contain senior forward Jeff Pendergraph or junior guard Derek Glasser, who both hit for 22 points in the sixth-seeded Sun Devils’ win over the 11th-seeded Owls.
Senior guard Dionte Christmas was the lone Owl to light up the scoreboard, as he notched a game-high 29 points and hit on five 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen added his 14th double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but they were the only two in double figures.
The rest of the box score was highlighted by lows: senior guard Semaj Inge’s 0-for-10 effort, junior guard Ryan Brooks’ 3-for-10 day from the field and 1-for-5 day from beyond the arc, freshman guard Juan Fernandez’s two fouls in less than two minutes in the first half and just six minutes of playing time overall.
Still, Temple (22-11) hung with Arizona State, fighting back from a 13-point first-half deficit to get within three. When the Sun Devils added to the lead, the Owls once again chipped away, getting back to within one or two possessions late in the second half.
But, Christmas missed a 3-pointer. Allen missed a jump shot. Brooks missed a trey. There was no foul call on a missed Sun Devil free throw. Christmas was whistled for a questionable travel. Just as quickly as it all started back in October, the clock hit zero at the American Airlines Arena, and a dejected group of Owls wandered aimlessly into the tunnel.
“We had our moments. We had our looks,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “[But], we did not take advantage of them as we needed to in a game of this magnitude on this stage.”
The Owls held the Pacific-10 Conference’s leading scorer, sophomore guard James Harden, without a field goal until the 4:04 mark of the second half when he sunk a 3-pointer at the top of the key to push Arizona State’s lead to seven.
“If you would have told us that James Harden would have ended up with nine points and I would have had 20 points and we lost the game, I would have thought you were crazy,” Christmas said. “[But] I thought Ryan Brooks did a tremendous job on him throughout the game.”
With Harden locked down, it was Glasser’s four first-half treys and the Sun Devils’ more than 50 percent shooting from the field that did the Owls in.
“That’s what makes them a good team, they’re more than just James Harden,” Christmas said.
And as Arizona State moved on to lose to third-seeded Syracuse in the second round Sunday afternoon, the Owls began to think about next season.
“We’ll gather next week,” Dunphy said. “Thank [the seniors] for their great careers, and then the rest of us will move on to try to get back here again, which is not an easy task.”
The thanking will certainly start with Christmas, who finished his Temple career as the single-season record holder for made 3-pointers with 107 and with 2,043 points all-time — which is good enough for fourth all-time.
While the NBA appears to be next, right now, he’s just putting everything into perspective.
“It was great,” Christmas said of his time at Temple. “[I had] a lot of great memories, especially under coach Dunphy. It’s been a fun time while I was here, two A-10 Championships, two [NCAA] Tournament appearances, there’s not too many people who can say they did that. I think I had a wonderful career here.”
Inge, who went through some ups and downs throughout his time at Temple, decided to appreciate what he had accomplished.
“I’m glad that my career ended in the NCAA Tournament, not just on a bad season,” he said.
The third departing senior, center Sergio Olmos, cried as he left the court and had difficulty putting his thoughts into words as his collegiate career came to an end.
“This is it. This is it for me,” Olmos added. “I just wanted to keep [playing] as long as I could.”
Brooks will be uttering those same types of thoughts next year, but now, that looks to be light-years away.
The junior guard will be the team captain next season, and he’s well aware that his responsibilities in leading the Owls begin right now.
“I thought about [being a captain] for a little bit, but I’m still thinking about this game,” Brooks said. “But when that time comes a week from now, I’m definitely going to be ready to step up and be a leader for this team.”
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.