March madness in college basketball means survival of the fittest. For a struggling Temple team, this idea took an entire new meaning as they entered the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament in Memphis.
Men’s basketball went into Wednesday’s first round game against the University of Central Florida Knights knowing they would literally have to fight to play another day. A win meant another chance. A loss meant the end of the season.
Neither team would relent. With both squads holding an under .500 record, their only chance at the big dance would be to win the conference.
The Owls took the Knights into double overtime before eventually falling in 94-40 heartbreaker.
Coming down the stretch in regulation, UCF’s standout stud Isaiah Sykes had 4.9 seconds to hit the game winning bucket with the score knotted at 76. While his shot hit nothing but net, it left his fingertips moments after the buzzer.
Sykes found himself in the same situation at the end of the first overtime, this time, however, with 9.6 seconds to find a shot. Airball. Double overtime with the score tied at 82.
Second overtime. Temple’s starting five all flirting with 50 minutes of playing time and the fatigue is evident. Will Cummings gets the first bucket of the extra period, but from there, the Owls are dry. They miss 9 straight in a 4 minute drought allows the Knights to pull ahead by as many as five.
This is the point in the game where a team needs its leaders. Temple agile junior point guard Will Cummings has fouled out. Dalton Pepper is having no success on the court shooting 5 of 14. Someone has to take a shot.
Quenton DeCosey, the breakout Owl star on the court, drains a 3 ball with the clock winding down to 6 and his team is within one. He has a career high 28 points on the evening, but his efforts alone are not enough. UCF tacks on a few free throws for a 94-90 win.
The Owls end the season with their worst record on paper to date, highlighted by 22 losses, single digit wins, and a loss in the first round of conference championships.
While the season may be over, Owl fans do have something to look forward to for next season.
The only play bidding adieu is Dalton Pepper. He became the first Temple player in history to hit a trey is every single game and finishes his season run with 541 points. His shooting ability may be missed on the court, but this time, Coach Dunphy has a plan.
Cummings and DeCosey contributed 488 and 478 points this season respectively. Both will be back as guards next year. In addition, Temple has three transfers who sat quietly on the bench each and every game in suits and ties instead of warm ups.
Jaylen Bond, Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman have been practicing as Owls for a season now, but were unable to get any minutes on the hardwood, due to NCAA rules.
Texas transfer Jaylen Bond has two seasons of eligibility in Owl gear, while former Devin Clemson player Coleman can contribute 1.5 years. The case of Morgan, however, is more interesting. He was denied permission to play this season after transferring from UMass for disciplinary reasons. While possible that his eligibility has expired at the end of this 2013-2014 campaign, there remains a chance he could suit up next year.
Finally, Temple forward Daniel Dingle was sidelined for the majority of the season with a torn MCL, further damaging the Owl’s already thin lineup. He is expected to return next year.
Still, the glaring statistic cannot be ignored. While the only remaining hope to revive a strong tradition of winning teams at Temple, the sting of missing a chance to make history by appearing in seven straight tournaments remains.