Temple's Dunphy apologizes instead of celebrating

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Fran Dunphy had his players review their loss to UMass in the A-10 Tournament while Owls fans celebrated their NCAA bid.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Fran Dunphy had his players review their loss to UMass in the A-10 Tournament while Owls fans celebrated their NCAA bid.
Posted: March 19, 2013

IF FRAN DUNPHY had his druthers, his Temple players would have been serving soup somewhere in the city when the NCAA Tournament selections were announced Sunday night. Or cleaning a park, or working at a rec center, something to reinforce how lucky they were to be awaiting such news, to be in position to play an NCAA Tournament game for the sixth season in a row.

But he couldn't line that up, so he found another way to remind them of it. While a pep band played and faithful fans assembled in the Fox-Gittis Room at the Liacouras Center to watch the selection show, Dunphy sat the team through another viewing of their 79-74 loss to UMass on Friday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, stopping it often.

"We were in there," said T.J. DiLeo, one of the team's five seniors, " for a while."

When they emerged, after Temple received a ninth seed and a Friday date with North Carolina State in Dayton, Ohio, there was not a lot of fist pumping to the enthusiastic tunes of the band. When the coach addressed the gathering, he spent most of the time apologizing on behalf of his team.

"Excited, relieved, grateful," he would say later when asked to sum up his feelings, but that was only after his long apology to the assembled supporters, and subsequent ones in numerous media interviews afterward.

"With the exception of Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who was off the charts, we didn't play our best basketball game," said Dunphy. "And that's disappointing. We had a great opportunity and we chose not to accept it."

Temple's loss to the Minutemen late Friday night marked the second year in a row that the Owls have been bumped out by UMass. This time, though, it was more about what Temple didn't do than what UMass did. Khalif Wyatt, just 2 days removed from being named the A-10 Player of the Year, at one point missed 12 consecutive shots, made just two of 11 three-point tries, and finished a dismal 4-for-19 from the field.

The loss snapped a season-ending seven-game winning streak, and a building feeling of invincibility, especially in conference. During the week preceding the A-10 Tournament, each of the five seniors spoke about the team's ability to win close games, and even the low-key Dunphy spoke repeatedly about Temple's resilience.

So what happened? Was it the certainty of an NCAA bid? Dunphy said he didn't feel that certainty, but it was clear in talking to his players last week that they did. In that vein, it also was clear they did not share his anxiety Sunday - and they were proved right.

"I can't speak for everybody," said Jake O'Brien, the fifth-year senior transfer. "But everyone reads the news and follows the media and there are constant updates about the brackets . . .

"Everybody said we were a safe 'in.' But there is always that uneasy feeling until you hear your name called."

Especially if your name is Jake O'Brien. After an injury-plagued career at Boston University, O'Brien was looking for a place to play his final season of eligibility last summer, and conducted his own Final Four. Boston College, Providence, Virginia and Temple made it. Temple won, he said, because of its historical track record, and because of Dunphy's, too.

"There was a lot of uncertainty," he said. "I definitely had some hopes and wishes how it would play out, but coming here in August, it was such a last-minute decision. You never know with these things."

Temple is in. The other three are not.

"I'm just happy it worked out. But we're not done," he said. "I can't wait for Thursday, Friday, whenever we're playing."

It's Friday. No one seemed capable of remembering that Sunday night, even after the roomful of fans shouted the day in unison to Dunphy when he expressed some confusion.

Moments before, when it was revealed that Big 5 rival Villanova had drawn North Carolina as a ninth seed, the room also cheered in delight. Carolina had reached the finals of the ACC Tournament, losing to Miami. The Wolfpack had lost to Miami in the semifinals.

Unlike Temple, it did not snap a long winning streak. Maybe the streak had something to do with how the Owls played Friday. Maybe it nurtured some bad habits that bit them at the wrong time.

Or, if it helps them cure those ills for this Friday, the right time.

Dunphy wasn't buying it.

"I don't like losing streaks and I love winning streaks," he said. "Everything around you when you win, feels good. Everything around you, when you lose, feels bad. That's how I look at it.

"I just want these kids to win. I want them to experience that feeling of working hard to achieve a goal."

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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