In a flash, Owls' high is gone

Posted: March 20, 2011

It had been a long time since Temple had this experience - in fact, none of the current players could have known what to expect - but the hard truth is that winning the first game of the NCAA tournament doesn't make losing the second one any easier.

There is the realization somewhere behind the pain that you made a decent run. You gutted through a final-possession game, and then went double overtime in the next before losing to a No. 2 seed. People are going to say nice things about your stay in the tournament, but at that moment it just sounds as hollow as the final closing of the locker room door.

"Now, I know how Penn State felt when we beat them," Temple guard Ramone Moore said. "You look back and say, 'Wow, if we made this shot or that shot, we'd be in here celebrating.' But we're going home."

They would be going home anyway, but if the 71-64 loss to San Diego State on Saturday had come out differently, it would only be for a quick turnaround until the trip to Anaheim and the Sweet 16 weekend of the West Regional. Instead, because of those shots that missed here and there, the next plane won't be taking off.

The game could easily have come out differently against the Aztecs, who are now a ridiculous 34-2 this season. Temple came back from 11 down in the first half and finally tied the game on their last possession of regulation.

Juan Fernandez, Thursday's hero with the winning shot against Penn State, had a three-point attempt on the final possession of the first overtime that could have given him two shining moments, but it came off the rim and then very little went right in the second overtime.

"I guess the positive was that we came back and were able to play against a team that probably has better athletes than us," Fernandez said. "In the end it could have gone either way, and they probably thought they were going to get an easier game."

It was a typical Temple game in many ways, one of those games in which the closeness of the game defies the box score. In the second half and the two overtimes, the Owls shot just 32.5 percent from the floor. Against a team ranked among the nation's top 10, that's not supposed to be a recipe for a game that goes two overtimes. But it was somehow as the Aztecs unraveled against the clawing Temple pressure. To be honest, San Diego State tried to give it away, but Temple couldn't make enough shots to accept the gift.

So, somebody had to lose, and it turned out to be Temple, and if there was an injustice along the way, it came in the first overtime with Temple leading by two points, 59-57, when Fernandez was called for a lane violation on a missed free throw. He wasn't trying to steal the rebound. He was trying to help box out Aztecs forward Billy White, and it wasn't a call you expect to see in overtime of a tight NCAA tournament game. It was called, however chicken shack the call was, and Kawhi Leonard made the extra attempt. If you choose to look at it that way, the added point led to a second overtime instead of Temple's victory celebration.

"I don't think it was the right call, but it happens, and you can't do anything about it except try to play through it," Fernandez said.

Temple played on, as the Owls always do, but this was a storybook ending as written by Stephen King. They took eight shots in the second overtime and made just one of them. Nevertheless, it wasn't until the final minute that the game got irrevocably away from them. When it did, there was no getting it back.

"They made more plays than us," coach Fran Dunphy said, reducing the end game to its lowest common denominator. "We did a couple of things that we can't do. We had a couple of layups that probably would have helped us immeasurably, but we didn't get it done. We didn't find a way."

He was asked if there was one possession or one shot that stuck out, a moment that he thought might become a Moment, but the shot decided to rim out instead or the rebound decided to bounce out of bounds.

"I can't remember specifics, to be honest. I'm not sure I'll watch the film," Dunphy said. "I haven't watched too many 'last games.' Maybe next year I'll watch it. I don't think I want to visit it that soon."

That's because they all hurt in this tournament, even if the loss comes after forcing a highly ranked opponent to extend itself for two overtimes. Even if it comes after an exciting win to begin the tournament.

That's the lesson the Owls have learned now, and it is a painful one. The wins don't make the losses easier. They just make them later.

Contact columnist Bob Ford

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