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March 17, 2012NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After getting over the hump last season by winning the program's first NCAA Tournament game since 2001 and coming a few plays short of a Sweet 16 appearance, Temple fell back down the hill Friday night.
As the No. 5 seed in the Midwest region, the Owls lost to 12th-seeded South Florida, 58-44, at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. With the addition of play-in games, this will go down as a second-round loss, but in reality, it's the fourth opening-round NCAA Tournament loss for Temple under coach Fran Dunphy.
Overall, the Owls are 1-5 in the Big Dance since Dunphy took over as head coach in 2006.
"Coach Dunphy says it's on him, but I think it's on us," redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore said. "There's not much he can do. He does a great job preparing us. We just didn't come out and do our job. We have to put it on ourselves."
South Florida (22-13) was led by freshman guard Anthony Collins and sophomore forward Victor Rudd, who scored 17 points apiece. The Bulls won the game with their defense, however, holding Temple to 35.7 percent shooting.
"They just play solid defense," junior guard Khalif Wyatt said. "They contest every shot. They don't do anything differently. They just play solid and close out possessions."
Wyatt paced the Owls (24-8) with 19 points but committed two costly fouls, one flagrant and one technical. Temple's seniors, Moore, Juan Fernandez and Micheal Eric, combined to shoot 5-for-18 for just 13 points.
"They're a good team," said Fernandez, who managed just two shots and one point in his final college basketball game. "They're going to do a good job in the tournament because they are really tough defensively. They made more shots than us and that's it."
"They came out making threes and we weren't making threes," Eric added. "The name of the game is making shots and they made more shots than we did."
Despite an abysmal first-half shooting performance from South Florida, Temple led by only four at halftime. The Bulls shot 3-for-27 from the floor in the first half, an unheard-of 11.1 percent.
"We certainly should have had a bigger lead in the first half," Dunphy said. "There were a couple of fouls against us and they stepped up and made their foul shots like they needed to. But for us, we needed to do a better job on the offensive end and we didn't. If we're going to hold them to 11 percent shooting in the first half, we didn't run our offense as good as we needed to and finish plays at the rim."
Temple couldn't capitalize because it didn't take enough shots and was dominated on the defensive glass by the Bulls, who had 12 offensive rebounds and took twice as many shots as Temple in the first half.
"I think they're the best defensive team we played all year," Moore said. "They take pride in stopping their man. They're long and athletic. They do a great job switching and play team defense. It disrupted us tonight."
In the second half, the Bulls came out firing, shooting 60.9 percent and outscoring the Owls by 43-25 in the last 20 minutes. South Florida took the lead early in the second half thanks to a 9-2 run and never relinquished it. An 11-0 Temple run helped the Owls get within three at 41-38 after a Moore three-pointer with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left to play, but they got no closer than that.
"[The players] wanted to win," Dunphy said. "They wanted to play as hard as they could, as smart as they could. The game got away from us in the first part of the second half and I thought they battled back like we needed to, and we were just about over the hump, needed to make a shot or two and just couldn't get that done."
"Pressure is a privilege," Dunphy added. "We were privileged to be in this situation, privileged to be representing Temple in the NCAA tournament. I wish we could have done better."
Listen to the postgame comments from Dunphy, Moore and Wyatt, along with South Florida coach Stan Heath, guards Anthony Collins and Victor Rudd Jr. and forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
Dunphy, Moore, Wyatt
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com.