Staying Awhile?

Fran Dunphy

There were years early in Fran Dunphy's tenure as Temple men's basketball coach that the Owls thought they needed to win their conference tournament to nab an NCAA Tournament bid. This time, they know they do. With a 9-21 record. the Owls' season is over with their next loss — which could come as early as Wednesday in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament against UCF.

There were years early in Fran Dunphy's tenure as Temple men's basketball coach that the Owls thought they needed to win their conference tournament to nab an NCAA Tournament bid.

This time, they know they do.

With a 9-21 record. the Owls' season is over with their next loss — which could come as early as Wednesday night in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament against Central Florida.

Two straight wins to end the season— including a 19-point comeback at South Florida on Saturday — gave the Owls the No. 8 seed against the No. 9 Knights. A victory would give Temple a berth in the quarterfinals against No. 1 Cincinnati.

Temple split two games against Central Florida, winning the most recent matchup last Tuesday in overtime, but the Knights were without leading scorer Isaiah Sykes and coach Donnie Jones, who will both be back for this matchup.

"What you're thinking about is Central Florida, so before you do anything long-range, you have to take care of the short-range piece," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "We were fortunate to win the last game. We had to go to overtime, they didn't have their leading scorer or coach. All things aligned."

If the Owls win they know they have pushed the Bearcats to their limits twice and also took host Memphis to overtime on their home court.

"Knowing we've been competing with teams we've lost to all season. ... We've been able to compete and potentially beat all the teams that have been in our league," said junior point guard Will Cummings.

Temple finished the regular season 4-14 in the American. It did so in a rebuilding year when it lost one of its key cogs in Daniel Dingle to a season-ending injury before the New Year. While the Owls came from the competitive Atlantic 10, facing five ranked teams in their league has been a new experience.

"The top 5 teams (Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Connecicut and Memphis) have separated themselves, the top five are in the top 20 in the country," said Dunphy. "That's impressive in anybody's league. To have half your conference ranked is tough."

For the Owls to win four games in four days, they'll likely have to beat three of those teams who have been ranked this season — not to mention Central Florida in the opener. After three straight A-10 titles under Dunphy, the Owls have gotten knocked out early the last three years — though wound up in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team each year.

That won't happen this season without winning the inaugural championship.

"I don't know how much we talk about it, but a lot of guys believe we can do it," said leading scorer and senior Dalton Pepper.

Added Dunphy: "We're packing for four straight games, but before you get to the fourth one, you have to win the first one."

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