HARTFORD, Conn – Battered and bruised, the Temple basketball team was hoping to emerge from Saturday’s American Athletic Conference semifinal against SMU with an NCAA Tournament bid-clinching win, and a measure of revenge for two regular season losses to the Mustangs.
Instead, they suffered the same fate as before – losing a double-digit lead, battling frontcourt foul trouble all day, and eventually getting pounded in the paint on the way to a 69-56 defeat at XL Center.
Now, the Owls can only wait for Sunday’s announcement of the tournament field, and hope that a 23-10 record, including a victory over Kansas, is enough to gain selection over a half-dozen other NCAA hopefuls.
Amazingly, in his 26th season as a Division I head coach, this is the first time Fran Dunphy finds himself on the bubble. He guided Penn to the NCAA Tournament nine times, and he’s been there six times at Temple. But on every one of those occasions, the bid was a sure thing on Selection Sunday.
This year will be different.
“There’s a lot of angst,” Dunphy said after Saturday’s loss.
The Owls find themselves in this position after another frustrating and physical game against the Mustangs.
Though junior forward Jaylen Bond was able to play through an ankle sprain he suffered in Friday’s win over Memphis, he drew two fouls in the first six minutes of the first half, then drew two more in the first three minutes of the second half. So he played just 11 minutes – totaling four points and five rebounds.
But where the Owls really missed him was on defense, where their smaller lineup couldn’t contain SMU forwards Markus Kennedy (17 points), Yanick Moreira (11 points), and Cannen Cunningham (11 points).
The Mustangs took control with a superb offensive show in the first 10 minutes of the second half, hitting nine straight shots as they turned a 30-26 deficit into a 49-38 lead.
The Owls eventually made some defensive stops, but couldn’t score enough to make a serious run. They converted just 2 of 16 three-point attempts in the second half and shot 29.3 percent from the field in the game.
Quenton DeCosey led the team with 14 points, while Jesse Morgan scored 10. Will Cummings had nine points and three assists and Obi Enechionyia had eight points and five rebounds.
Temple did a nice job against SMU point guard Nic Moore (7 points, shooting 3 for 14 from the field), but surrendered 11 offensive rebounds and allowed the Mustangs to make 15 of 27 field goal attempts in the second half.
Cummings injured his left shoulder after a scramble late in the game, but returned to the court and said afterward that the injury is a painful bruise, but nothing worse.
He said he’ll be ready to play – as early as Tuesday night if the Owls are one of the last four at-large picks to the tournament field.
They won’t have to wait very long to find out.
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