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February 14, 2013

Bubble burst?

At some point during this maddening season, Temple's warts and inconsistencies were going to be too much to overcome and cost the Owls a loss.

That moment arrived at perhaps the worst possible time - Thursday night at the Liacouras Center against a Duquesne team that had lost its last 11 games and had not won yet in the Atlantic 10.

This time, there was no moment to exhale and smile. This time, there was no waking up from a bad dream.

Instead, Temple exhausted all nine of its lives and allowed the A-10's worst team to come into its building and steal an 84-83 win. Duquesne (8-16 overall, 1-9 A-10) won it when freshman guard Derrick Colter drew a foul call on Owls guard Dalton Pepper with 2.1 seconds left to play and calmly hit two free throws to provide the game-winning points.

Temple, which had trailed by eight with 1:25 to play, came all the way back to take the lead when Khalif Wyatt, who poured in a career-high 35 points, completed a three-point play with 7.4 seconds left to give the Owls a short-lived, 83-82 lead. That came after Duquesne's Jeremiah Jones missed two free throws to give the Owls one final breath.

But after Colter hit his free throws and a desperation shot at the buzzer from Pepper missed, reality set in.

Wyatt and just about everyone wearing a Temple uniform was livid with the call on Pepper, which likely could have gone either way. Owls coach Fran Dunphy said he didn't have a good enough view of it during the game to comment.

Wyatt did.

"I thought Dalton was playing pretty good defense," Wyatt said when asked about his view of the foul call that allowed Duquesne to win the game. "I don't think it's a call that should be made at that point in the game, but that's what the ref saw. He made a good call, I guess."

While a despondent Wyatt was understandably frustrated and certainly entitled to that opinion, Temple - if it hopes to salvage its hopes of gaining a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth - should and likely will realize it never, ever should have put itself in position to be losing to Duquesne in the closing seconds.

Yes, Temple is 16-8 with a December win over then-No. 3 Syracuse, but here are some sobering facts and figures to consider:

The Owls, who came into Thursday's game with an RPI of 42, lost to a Duquesne team that entered the contest with an RPI of 219, according to Jerry Palm and CBS' RPI rankings. In other words, this loss will put a big dent in Temple's body of work if it happens to be sitting upon the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble next month.

Temple, which had been virtually unbeatable at the Liacouras Center over the past three years, has now lost to St. Bonaventure and Duquesne this season. For the Bonnies, it was their first win ever in Philadelphia against Temple. For Duquesne, it was the Dukes' first win since a Dec. 19 victory over Western Michigan.

And once again, the Owls proved they just cannot defend well.

In the more of the same department, Temple allowed a team it should beat to get ahead early. In this case, Duquesne built a lead as large as 11 points in the first half - with 6:38 left before the break - and led, 43-37, at halftime behind 63 percent shooting. Quevyn Winters, who came into the game averaging 8.7 points per game, got 16 points in 14 first-half minutes, shooting a perfect 6 of 6 overall and 4 of 4 from three-point range.

He finished with a team-high 22 points, by the way, including a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range. Colter, who provided up that 11-point lead, did so on a layup in which he easily drove through the lane completely unguarded.

Temple opened up the second half on a 17-3 run to grab an eight-point lead at 54-46 with 14:51 remaining, but Winters capped an 8-0 Duquesne run to regain the lead for the Dukes at 55-54 a little more than two minutes later. Owls forward Scootie Randall, who scored 15 points, got the lead back for Temple with a three at the 11:32 mark, but a jumper by Duquesne center Andre Marhold (15 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks) and a trey from Kadeem Pantophlet put the Dukes ahead by 60-57 with nine minutes to go.

Pepper tied it with a three 40 seconds later, but Sean Johnson hit a jumper 11 seconds later and Duquesne made that lead last until Wyatt's three-point play set off the late-game dramatics.

The Dukes got away with a win despite turning the ball over 18 times and allowing the Owls to get 27 points off turnovers. But Duquesne saved face by outrebounding Temple, 40-31, and holding the Owls to 38.1 percent shooting, including 34.3 in the second half.

Other than Wyatt, Randall and Pepper, no other Temple player scored more than seven points, and those seven came from forward Jake O'Brien, who shot just 1 of 7 overall and 1 of 5 from three-point range. Sophomore forward Anthony Lee mustered just one field goal attempt (that he missed), four rebounds and five points in 19 minutes.

Does Temple have a chance to redeem itself and get back on the good end of the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into next month's A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn? Yes, but it will not be easy. Saturday's game at Massachusetts will mean the Owls will have to try to stay in front of ultra-quick guard Chaz Williams. Remember what he did to Temple last March?

After that comes a big home game against La Salle, followed by a trip to Charlotte three days later Feb. 24 and a rescheduled home game against Detroit Feb. 28. Then the Owls play at home against Rhode Island March 2, at Fordham March 6 and host VCU March 10 in the regular-season finale.

"When I was asked (before the season) what kind of team we had," Dunphy said, "I said I think we can be good. 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."

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.


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