Close, But. ...

It's as if the Temple football season has morphed into the men's basketball season, a string of certain victories turning into heart-wrenching defeats. The Owls fell to No. 24 Memphis on Saturday to drop to 5-9 overall and 0-4 in the American Athletic Conference. Amazingly, Temple has held second-half leads in all 14 games this season, but no one would know it by looking at the record.

It's as if the Temple football season has morphed into the men's basketball season, a string of certain victories turning into heart-wrenching defeats.

The Owls fell to No. 24 Memphis on Saturday to drop to 5-9 overall and 0-4 in the American Athletic Conference. Amazingly, Temple has held second-half leads in all 14 games this season, but no one would know it by looking at the record.

Despite graduating five contributing seniors, coming into the season with only 10 players and losing sophomore Daniel Dingle to a likely season-ending knee injury before the conference season started, the Owls could have been on the verge of a special season.

Even if they had held on to win three games they led in the final minute – against Rutgers, Texas and Texas Southern, two of them the final 10 seconds – they would be having a decent season considering the circumstances.

But except for late wins against Penn and Georgia, the Owls have had trouble closing out games. And recent injuries to point guard Will Cummings and freshman forward Mark Williams haven't helped matters.

"I keep saying to my guys, it's the last minute-and-30," said junior center Anthony Lee. "I've never been in so many close games in my life. It's been a weird thing. … You would think you would get some and lose some. We haven't gotten (many) since the Penn game. It's been heart-breaking, it's just been little things.

"I feel like if we were winning these games, everybody would be praising us for winning without depth. We really could have a lot of wins (even) with inexperience and lack of bench or production we had in the past. We'd probably be one of the top stories in college basketball, you (writers) would be giving us a lot of praise. But because we're falling short, it's like dang, we just lost another guy. But we're playing with five, six, seven guys and we're still in the game."

The Owls looked like they might nab that first conference win on Thursday against South Florida even though they had just seven available players. And for a while they looked like they might stun the ranked Tigers.

But as has been the case most of the season, they faded down the stretch.

"Every game we're right there," said the Owls' lone senior Dalton Pepper. "One or two more stops each game and we could be 12-1 or whatever it is. We're playing well, we just have to close out games, hit free throws, make one or two more stops. We're right there. I'm happy with the way we played (against Memphis.)"

Fran Dunphy, who has led the Owls to six straight NCAA tournaments, acknowledged his squad is close, but obviously not doing enough to win yet.

"I think we're still a work in progress, and we're putting ourselves in pretty decent position, but we're losing focus on a possession or two which changes the whole momentum of the game," said Dunphy. "That's what we've got to correct. There's some things we can tighten up and be better at.

"I like where we're headed when we get everybody (except Dingle) healthy."

The challenges of turning the season around are made tougher since this is the Owls' first year in the American Athletic Conference, which is stronger at the top and deeper than their previous league, the Atlantic 10.

"We're still finding out who we are, and we're in this league. … We've had our opportunities to win games and we haven't gotten it done for whatever reason," said Dunphy. "I think we can be good in this league. It's just one of those things right now, we're plugging away and trying to be the best we can be.

"We don't have much margin for error right now. We lost five pretty solid players from last year's team. We're working on replacing them and I see signs of getting better. We're losing a little bit of focus at some point, and we have to get it back."

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