The ever-changing NCAA Tournament bubble that the Temple Owls found themselves on entering their matchup with the Duquesne Dukes Thursday night at the Liacouras Center could not withstand any more pressure. Another loss to an inferior team, which is often all it takes, and that bubble could burst. Duquesne, who came into the night on an eleven game losing streak, who hadn’t won a single contest within the Atlantic-10 Conference all year, and had a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking of 217, certainly qualified as such a team. Once the ball was tipped, however, the Dukes played like anything but, and the Owls were the ones who could have been considered inferior on this particular night, resulting in an inexcusable 84-83 loss that may have very well put Temple on the outside looking in come tournament time.
The Owls (16-8 overall, 5-5 Atlantic-10) were a 17-point favorite at home against the Dukes (8-16, 1-9 A-10) on Thursday night. For the first time in their program’s history, Temple’s last four games were decided by one point, with matchups consisting of lowly Dayton, Charlotte and St. Joseph’s. In February of the college basketball season, hopeful NCAA Tournament teams are trying to strengthen and maintain their resume, and do whatever is necessary to avoid losses such as the one the Owls suffered against Duquesne. They are the types of losses that determine whether you’re an NCAA Tournament team or an NIT-bound team. The outcome of this season, unfortunately for the Owls at this point, may result in the latter.
Temple’s Khalif Wyatt, a definitive Atlantic-10 Conference player of the year candidate, scored a career-high 35 points in the loss, including 15 for 15 from the free throw line, to go along with 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 6 steals. When asked if this was the toughest loss of his career, all he could do was hang his head and say, “all of them are tough.”
“We’re a good team,” coach Fran Dunphy said, “but we’re not nearly good enough at this point. When I was asked [earlier this year] what kind of team we had, I said, ‘I think we can be good, but I don’t know that we can be great,’ and it’s proving to be a little bit prophetic. Although, at this point, we’re too inconsistent to even be called good.”
The Owls have made the dance the last five years, but now find themselves 16-8 overall and 5-5 in the A-10. They won’t know how sharply their RPI ranking of 42 will fall until Friday, but they do know they sit behind eight other teams in a conference that might receive half that number of tournament bids. Never mind the fact that they still have to play UMass, La Salle and VCU.
Temple’s defense, easily the team’s biggest weakness this year, allowed Duquesne to shoot 49 percent from the floor and make 10 of 23 looks from three-point range Thursday night. The Dukes shot an even more impressive 67 percent on 17 of 27 attempts in the first half to take a six-point lead, 43-37, into halftime. Freshman Quevyn Winters led the Dukes with a career-high 22 points, while 6’6 Senior Andre Marhold added 15 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Freshman guard Derrick Colter filled the stat sheet with 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 7 turnovers.
The Owls stormed out of the locker room on a 17-3 run to go ahead by eight, but immediately ceded its advantage when they allowed the Dukes to score the next nine points. From there, Duquesne rebuilt its lead to find itself up 79-71 with 1:25 to play. Wyatt and Junior transfer Dalton Pepper cut that margin to just two with four foul shots and a Pepper three from the left wing with 33 seconds remaining.
After the Dukes’ Jeremiah Jones missed two free throws with less than 20 ticks to play, Wyatt went down the other end and converted a critical three-point play that actually put Temple ahead 83-82 with just 7.2 seconds remaining, and it looked like the Owls were going to make the comeback and escape with their third straight one-point victory.
That was until Pepper, who finished with a season-high 13 points and was instrumental in keeping Temple in the game, was whistled for an extremely questionable foul on guard Derrick Colter with 2.9 seconds remaining. It isn’t often you see the home team get called for a borderline contact foul in such a crucial one-point game, especially with that amount of time left. It can also be said, however, that Temple shouldn’t have allowed themselves to be in such a position to begin with.
“I have no idea. I haven’t seen the tape and I was too far away to get a sense of it,” Dunphy said. ”There’s not much we can do about it at this point. They’re three really good officials. So if they blew a foul on that, that’s what it was.”
Colter converted both ensuing free throws to put the Dukes ahead 84-83, but Temple had one last shot when Pepper caught a full-court heave from T.J. DiLeo and launched a clean look at a three as time expired. The ball landed softly on the rim, ricocheted off the backboard and ultimately fell to the floor, and barring a miracle, the Owls’ tournament hopes did as well.Tags: Dalton Pepper, Fran Dunphy, Khalif Wyatt, loss, March Madness, NCAA, NCAA Tournament, T.J. DiLeo, Temple