EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There's that crazy old adage that your best players have to play their best games if you want to pull off an upset, which is exactly what Temple was trying to do against No. 2 Duke Saturday at the IZOD Center.
But the Owls didn't get double-figure scoring from a single starter, their top two scorers made just 25 percent of their shots, and the Owls paid for it in a 90-67 loss, their first of the season.
Granted, Duke is good -- very, very good. The Blue Devils (9-0) came into Saturday's game with wins over Kentucky, No. 5 Louisville and No. 7 Ohio State and were playing in an arena that has been a home away from home. And the crowd of 12,157 was wearing a heck of a lot more blue than cherry red.
So what one could perhaps determine after the final buzzer sounded is that Duke has a chance to win a national championship, while Temple (6-1) isn't really as bad as it looked but still has a lot of work to do if it wants to be great and make an NCAA Tournament run in March.
No one of course wants to lose by 23 on national television, but Saturday will have to go down as one of those teachable moments if the Owls want to take anything away from the loss.
"Oh, sure," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "I'm a bit of a knucklehead when it comes to watching film after losses. I said to our guys, we'll watch every single play because I think we can learn from every single play that was out there today. Could we have gotten over screens better? Could we have switched better? Could we have not taken out-of-character shots? Could we have stepped up and made shots at certain times?"
The answer to those questions is most likely a resounding yes. And even if Temple had done all those things well, there's a chance the Owls still would not have won Saturday.
Save for an early 4-0 lead, Temple fell behind quickly and never got back into the game. Duke went ahead for good at 5-4 on a three-pointer from freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon, the only Blue Devils starter who did not reach double-figure scoring. He scored the next three points as well, and then guards Seth Curry and Quinn Cook and forwards Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee took over from there.
Curry, who did not play a week ago against Delaware due to an ankle injury Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Curry will be dealing with all season, was virtually unstoppable. The 6-foot-2 senior guard scored a game-high 23 points on 7 of 11 shooting, including 5 of 9 from three-point range. The Blue Devils shot a sizzling 12 of 20 (60 percent) as a team from long range and 22 of 29 from the free-throw line.
Temple, conversely, shot a little better than 38 percent from beyond the arc (8-for-21), 39.7 percent (29-for-73) overall and attempted just four foul shots. That largely explains why the Owls lost by 23 on a day when they outscored the Blue Devils by 12 in the paint and by 36-15 in bench scoring.
Temple's highest-scoring starter was sophomore point guard Will Cummings, and he had just seven points on 3 of 7 shooting and played just 18 minutes due to foul trouble. Senior guard Khalif Wyatt, a big reason why the Owls upset Duke at the Wells Fargo Center last January, played arguably his worst game of the year, shooting 3-for-15 and 0-for-4 from three-point range. He scored just six points and played just 26 minutes.
Dunphy took out his second-leading scorer at the 13:41 mark and never put him back in.
"He didn't play well," Dunphy said of Wyatt. "He wasn't necessarily helping our team. He's going to get out of character sometimes, too. As a coach of Khalif, and I love him to death, there are times that you just have to put up with some of the stuff that he does because he's going to come back and make great shots for you and he's a really good player. But today wasn't his day and we decided to go a different way."
One of the lone bright spots for Temple was the play of freshman guard Quenton DeCosey, who shot 5-for-6 overall and a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range en route to a team-high 13 points in 18 minutes. Those 13 points and 18 minutes are early career highs for DeCosey, who's playing much more than any freshman guard has at Temple in recent memory, with the exception of former Owls point guard Juan Fernandez.
"He's a great guy and he's talented and coach has a lot of confidence in him and he has a lot of confidence in himself," senior forward Scootie Randall said of DeCosey, "and I think that's going to take him a long way."
"I just wanted to come in and be aggressive," said DeCosey, who played his high school basketball at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, not far down the New Jersey Turnpike. "When Coach Fran put me out there, he just said 'Be aggressive, don't worry about anything,' and I just wanted to help my team out in any way possible."
He did, but he just didn't get the help he needed from the rest of his team.
Randall, the team's leading scorer, was held to six points on 3 of 9 shooting, and forwards Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson were held to six points apiece as well.
"They're a great group coached by a great guy," Randall said, "so I think they just watched a lot of film like we do and tried to take us out of our game so we had to make other plays. As you can see, they executed well and did what they had to do."
Temple, which was already undermanned in the frontcourt against Plumlee and Kelly, did the one thing it could not afford to do in the first half - get into early foul trouble. Both Lee and backup forward Jake O'Brien (eight points) picked up two fouls, as did starting point guard Will Cummings. Lee's foul trouble limited him to 17 minutes Saturday.
The Owls fell behind by as many as 17 points at 35-18 in the first half after Curry hit a three-pointer and Plumlee (16 points, 14 rebounds) hit the front end of a 1-and-1. Temple did get a pair of three pointers from guard Dalton Pepper, the latter of which cut Duke's lead to 10 at 42-32, but a missed floater and later a travel by Wyatt cost the Owls the chance to get within single digits. Curry and Plumlee, who each had 10 first-half points, scored the last four points of the first half to give the Blue Devils a 46-32 lead at halftime.
Temple managed to get 40 first-half shots but only knocked down 14 of them at a 35 percent clip, while Duke was a much more efficient 51.9 percent (14 of 27) from the field, including a scorching 6 of 11 from three-point range. The Blue Devils also went 12-for-16 from the free throw line, while the Owls did not manage a single free throw in the first half.
Temple scored seven of the first 10 points in the second half but got no closer than 10 the rest of the way, and Duke led by as many as 26 points with less than a minute to go.
"They stepped up and did what they needed to do when we were even close to sniffing getting back in," Dunphy said.
With Lee off the floor for extended stretches of time, Duke was able to easily exploit mismatches along the perimeter and in the paint and work its offense inside-out. On one possession, the 6-2 Cummings and the 6-4 Wyatt were switching off on Kelly, a 6-11 forward who can play inside and hit from the perimeter. He got a double-double Saturday with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
When Dunphy was asked to assess his team's inside game, he did not seem to be overly concerned.
"We're not a pound-it-down-inside kind-of team," Dunphy said. "I think we're a drive-and-kick kind of group and we have to make plays for one another, and we can't get out of character with that.
"But as far as our inside game, I'm very pleased with our guys and I think this is going to be a great help to us moving forward."
It's going to have to be.