As a general rule, it's not often you see the home team whistled for borderline contact in a one-point game with 2.9 seconds to play.
But that's really no excuse. Temple should have never found itself in that position -- save for the fact that it always does. For the first time in their program's history, the Owls have had each of their last four games decided by just one point. And this is the one loss that's going to really hurt.
Despite a career-high 35 points from senior Khalif Wyatt, Temple, a 17-point favorite, lost to Duquesne, 84-83, at the Liacouras Center on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).
Duquesne, which had not won a game in conference this year (0-9).
Duquesne, which had lost its last 11 games in a row.
Duquesne, which had an RPI of 217 entering Thursday night.
With all that in mind, Wyatt was asked if this was the toughest loss of his four-year Temple career.
"All of them are tough," he said, looking straight down, head hung. "All of them are tough."
This one is going to prove a little tougher when it comes to Temple's NCAA tournament hopes, however. The Owls have made the dance the last five years but now find themselves 16-8 overall and 5-5 in the Atlantic 10. They won't know how sharply their RPI 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 bids. Never mind that they still have to play UMass, La Salle and VCU.
"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."
Dunphy's said something to that effect multiple times this year. He's made that comment about as often as he's said that his team needs to improve defensively. Temple allowed Duquesne to shoot 49 percent from the floor and make 10 of 23 looks from three 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 the break.
"They shot it so well in the first half," Dunphy said. "Our defense improved in the second half, but not good enough."
Temple stormed out of the locker room on a 17-3 run to go ahead eight but immediately ceded its advantage when it allowed the Dukes to score the next nine. 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, made a layup, converted his ensuing foul shot and actually put Temple ahead 83-82 with just 7.2 seconds remaining. The Owls looked like they were going to 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 a questionable foul on guard Derrick Colter with 2.9 seconds remaining.
"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."
Wyatt wasn't as diplomatic.
"I thought Dalton was playing pretty good defense," Wyatt said. "I don't think a call should be made at that point in the game, but that's what the refs saw. They made a good call -- I guess."
The game was in Pepper's hands one last time when he caught a full-court heave from T.J. DiLeo and a launched a clean, albeit high-arcing look at a three as time expired. The ball landed softly on the rim, ricocheted off the backboard and ultimately fell to the floor.
Temple has found a way to win so many tight games this year, including a magic show against Dayton last Saturday that featured two phantom calls and five missed foul shots in the final minute. On Thursday, the Owls' penchant for playing unnecessarily close games against lesser opponents finally caught up to them.
"It would have been a great win in so many ways, but we didn't play well enough to feel great about ourselves at this point," Dunphy said.
Two earlier home losses to Canisius and St. Bonaventure this season haven't looked particularly good on the Owls' resume, but those two teams boast RPI figures of 105 and 122 -- not 217. Temple still has enough games and wins available against quality opponents to salvage its at-large credentials, but it's left itself so little margin for error. Dunphy was asked if his team was starting to feel the pressure of missing the tournament for the first time in six years.
"I hope so," he answered. "I hope so. It's a good thing when your back is against the wall, and you respond.
"We'll find out [how we bounce back]. We'll find out on Saturday (at UMass). We have a tough game. We have really seven tough games coming up, six of them in the league and Detroit is really a good team, too. So we have presented ourselves with a very, very difficult challenge as we move forward in the last seven games."
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