Temple Owls

Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

BOX SCORE 

Whether it was simply coachspeak or the dawning realization that his team now has only one entry point into the NCAA Tournament, Fran Dunphy made a short but forceful declaration following Temple’s 80-59 loss to Houston on Sunday.

“We’ve got to win every game we play from here on in,” the Owls head coach said. “That’s the only thing we can do.”

Indeed, at this point, anything short of a perfect run through the American Athletic Conference tournament — which begins on March 8th following the Owls’ final three regular-season games — will likely relegate Temple to the NIT or worse.

The Cougars (21-5, 11-3 American) made sure of that by completely dominating the Owls (15-12 7-8) on their home court to suck the life out of the Liacouras Center — and Temple’s fading NCAA hopes.

“We never let them breathe,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. 

Houston has now won five straight to join nationally ranked Wichita State and Cincinnati atop the conference, making it increasingly likely that only those three squads will represent the American at the Big Dance. 

Temple, despite a conference record hovering around .500, had been making a nice push to join the party thanks to a potent strength of schedule, a couple of impressive November non-conference wins over Auburn and Clemson, and a recent five-game winning streak that included an overtime upset of Wichita State.

But after losing to the Shockers in a rematch on Thursday, the Owls likely needed to win out and then win at least a couple of more games in the AAC tournament to have a realistic shot of an at-large NCAA berth.

Houston ruined that by scoring the game’s first 15 points and never taking its foot off the gas from there en route to Sunday’s lopsided win.

“I think we came out really flat,” said Nate Pierre-Louis, who led the Owls with 13 points after watching the poor start from the bench. “I think we came out underestimating them. And they came out guns blazing, making everything. If we want to push forward, we can’t start out like that at all.”

Dunphy, who could be feeling some heat if Temple misses the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, had a hard time explaining what went wrong. But he didn’t make excuses, whether it was the team having trouble with its charter flight leaving Wichita (“You figure it out, suck it up and do a better job”) or bouncing back in general from an emotionally draining game there (“[Houston] had a great win at home against Cincinnati, so they were probably more susceptible to a letdown than we were”).

He also didn’t hide from the fact that there wasn’t enough effort from his players.

“We were a step slow all day long,” Dunphy said. “We had decent rest, we worked hard enough, [assistant coach] Chris Clark had us very well prepared for the x-and-o piece. We were just slow all day.”

In no way was that more magnified than in Houston’s 53-22 rebounding advantage, including a 17-5 edge on the offensive end. The Cougars' 53 rebounds matched a Liacouras Center record.

When asked about that, Sampson pointed out that he recently learned his team was among the shortest in the nation. Clearly, though, their hunger makes up for that fact.

“I guess we’re short but it never crossed my mind that it mattered,” the Houston coach said. “What’s that old saying? If size were important, what happened to the dinosaurs?”

Dunphy had a less philosophical (and probably more scientifically accurate) approach to the rebounding discrepancy.

“We were just not disciplined enough on the rebounding side,” the Temple coach said. “They played very well, and obviously we didn’t play very well at all.”

Sadly for Temple fans, the Owls have had a few games this year when they didn’t play well. They’ve also had games where they’ve looked like world-beaters, making this a particularly maddening season.

So whether the Owls close the regular season strong and make a run in the conference tournament or crash out in the first round is anyone’s guess, really. But even after Sunday’s brutal loss, sophomore Quinton Rose forecasted some optimism as the up-and-down 2017-18 campaign winds down.

“I think we’re at our best when we have our backs against the wall,” said Rose, who scored 13 on Sunday. “So I have no doubt we can make a good run."

Temple defense comes up huge in win over No. 21 Maryland

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Temple defense comes up huge in win over No. 21 Maryland

Anthony McFarland was already stuffed at the goal line once by Temple. With the Maryland running back needing inches again to put the Terps ahead, he should have known what was coming.

Shaun Bradley wrapped up McFarland in the backfield for one more clutch hit for Temple's defense. Bradley flexed his muscles, pounded his chest and let loose toward Temple fans howling in delight.

"It was the best feeling ever, man," Bradley said.

Kenny Yeboah had put Temple ahead on a one-handed touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter, and the Owls used two stops at the goal line — Bradley's was one of them — to hold off No. 21 Maryland 20-17 on Saturday.

The Owls (2-0) defeated an unbeaten Maryland team for the second straight season and got coach Rod Carey off to a nice start in his first season on Temple's sideline.

"Everything you're supposed to do to lose a game, we did," Carey said, "yet, we still executed well enough to overcome that."

Minus awful special teams, the Owls were nearly flawless in the fourth quarter.

Yeboah used his outstretched right hand to snag Anthony Russo's pass with 7:27 left in the game to put Temple ahead 20-15, but Maryland wasn't going down easy — and Temple's D pushed back.

The game program cover boy, Bradley stopped McFarland on fourth-and-goal with 3:27 left to seemingly seal the win. But Temple got the ball back and Adam Barry shanked a punt from the end zone to give Maryland first-and-goal at the 10.

Again, the Owls held the Terrapins, and a fourth-down pass was incomplete with 2:14 to go to complete the upset.

"Play the next play. You vs. me," Bradley said. "We're going to win that."

Russo's intentional safety finished off the scoring and completed the win for the seven-point underdogs.

Russo threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns for the Owls. McFarland ran for 132 yards and Josh Jackson threw for 183 yards and was sacked four times for the Terps.

"I'm disappointed in our ability to run the ball inside the goal line area," Maryland coach Michael Locksley said. "Any team that I coach, we're going to be a team that has to have the ability to punch it in."

The Terps (2-1), who had opened with two straight blowout wins, made a series of plays in the third quarter to shake out of a road malaise.

McFarland, who had four touchdowns rushing in his first two games, gave Maryland a 9-7 lead when he scored on a 4-yard run early in the third. That got a rise out of thousands of Maryland fans who had made the 130-mile trek north to watch the Terps try to stay unbeaten.

Then, Jackson hit Tyler Mabry with a 17-yard pass to put Maryland ahead 15-13 — the 2-point conversion was missed.

Temple had its supporters, too, at the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the announced crowd of 30,610 wasn't far off the actual mark. It was the biggest home game of the season and the parking lots were stuffed with tailgating fans hungry for a win.

Russo hit Jadan Blue in stride for a 79-yard touchdown in the third quarter for a 13-9 lead, and that gave those Temple fans hope another upset was on the horizon.

"There was a lot of hype around this game," Bradley said. "I don't talk too much on Twitter about it. But I see it. `Maryland was going to do this. How's Temple going to stop this?'"

Bradley and the rest of Temple's defense had all the answers.

The takeaway 

Maryland flashed one of the more dominant offenses in the nation in the first two games, rolling to a 79-0 win over Howard and 63-20 victory over then-No. 21 Syracuse. The Terps averaged 335.5 yards rushing, the fourth-best average in the country and were best among Big Ten teams.

The Terps' offense dragged in Philadelphia.

Maryland had just 79 yards rushing and two first downs in the first half, its lone score came on a safety. Jackson was sacked three times, McFarland was stuffed on fourth-and-goal and Joseph Petrino was wide left on a 42-yard attempt. Maryland even botched a fake field-goal attempt in the second quarter, and suddenly the Terps seemed to be spiraling toward another upset loss to the Owls.

Temple has been to four straight bowl games with three coaches and Carey could be the latest one to keep the run going.

Poll implications 

The Terps cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 2013 and hadn't ranked as high as No. 21 since November 2006. So much for that.

Up next 

Temple plays Saturday at Buffalo.

Maryland has a week off before Penn State on Sept. 27. "The way we played, the bye couldn't come at a better time," Locksley said.

The Fran Dunphy era ends as Temple falls to Belmont in First Four of NCAA Tournament

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The Fran Dunphy era ends as Temple falls to Belmont in First Four of NCAA Tournament

Updated: 1:31 a.m. 

DAYTON, Ohio — A few seconds were still left on the clock when Fran Dunphy headed to midcourt for his final postgame handshake, the outcome long decided. Belmont was simply too much for his Owls.

Nobody else in the NCAA Tournament is excited to face their efficient offense, either.

Kevin McClain scored 29 points and led the decisive second-half run as Belmont got its first NCAA Tournament win, pulling away to an 81-70 victory Tuesday night and ending Dunphy's career in the First Four.

The 11th-seeded Bruins (27-5) play Maryland on Thursday in the East Region.

"We belong in this tournament," said McClain, who finished two points shy of his career high. "You can see that."

Belmont got an at-large bid after losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title game. The Bruins showed the selection committee's faith was not misplaced, getting the breakthrough win on their eighth try.

"I think that they can play in this atmosphere and this is important," coach Rick Byrd said. "I didn't think many times we played well, or knew what we were in offensively, but they found a way to win. And you never play perfect, and I think they've got some toughness about them."

The loss sent Temple (23-10) into a transition. Dunphy is retiring after his 13th season at Temple, where he replaced John Chaney. Dunphy previously coached 17 seasons at Penn.

"The game of basketball has given me way more than I have given to it," Dunphy said.

He was hoping to coach another day, but Belmont's high-scoring offense pulled away at the end. Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 21 points.

"That team is smart," Alston said. "They only do what they're good at."

The Bruins entered the tournament second in the nation at 87.4 points per game. The Owls' aim was to slow the high-percentage offense just enough to give themselves a chance. Temple hung in during a first half that featured five lead changes and ended with Belmont ahead 37-31.

The Bruins pushed their lead to 11 points by hitting their first two shots in the second half. Alston, who led the American Athletic Conference at 19.7 points per game, hit three 3-pointers as the Owls surged ahead 50-46. Alston has been the Owls' catalyst, scoring at least 20 points in each of his last nine games.

McClain led a 16-3 run that put Belmont ahead to stay. McClain finished two points shy of his career high.

The Bruins' balanced offense had more than enough even though leading scorer Dylan Windler was held to five points on 2-of-7 shooting, matching his season low. Windler came in averaging 21.4 points.

Big picture 
Temple: Former Owls star Aaron McKie takes over for Dunphy. McKie is an assistant on Dunphy's staff. The Owls haven't won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013, when they beat N.C. State at Dayton before losing in the second round. They went 2-8 in eight appearances under Dunphy.

Belmont: The Bruins got only the second at-large NCAA Tournament bid in Ohio Valley Conference history, along with Middle Tennessee in 1987. They'd dropped their seven appearances when they had automatic bids.

Tourney history 
Temple's last NCAA Tournament win was in 2013 over N.C. State in Dayton. The Owls are 33-33 all-time in the tournament.

Belmont is making its eighth NCAA appearance since 2006. Its closest previous brush with a victory was a one-point loss to Duke in 2008.

Moose tracks
Six-foot-11 freshman center Nick Muszynski missed the OVC title game with a sprained left ankle, injured the previous game. Muszynski, whose nickname is Moose, started Tuesday and had 16 points and four rebounds. He wore a protective boot after the game.

"I thought he played terrific," Byrd said. "We just didn't know what we were going to get. Frankly, yesterday in practice he didn't look very good at all. But he really showed a lot today."

Philly fewer 
Philadelphia's Big 5 rivalry lost two of its longtime coaches Tuesday. In addition to Dunphy heading into retirement, Saint Joseph's fired Phil Martelli after his 24th season.

No stage fright 
The crowd at University of Dayton Arena was 11,874, the second-largest Belmont has played in front of this season. The high was 14,804 at Mackey Arena on Dec. 29, when Belmont lost to Purdue 73-62.

Up next 
Belmont heads to Jacksonville, Florida, for its game against Maryland.