As in most in recent years, little has come easily for Temple this season.
It’s a program that plays with little margin for error. The Owls have been involved in their share of tight situations.
Another occurred on Sunday, when Temple barely gained entrance to the NCAA Tournament.
Temple earned a No. 11 seed and will compete in a play-in game against Belmont at 9:10 p.m., Tuesday, in Dayton, Ohio.
Being in a play-in game means Temple was one of the last four teams selected to the field of 68. The Owls were third-to-last to make the tournament, according to David Worlock, director of media coordination and statistics for the NCAA,
St. John’s was last, followed by Arizona State, Temple, and Belmont.
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Of the 68 teams, Temple is actually seeded 43rd, ahead of Arizona State, St. John’s, and 23 other automatic qualifiers.
The Owls are in the East Regional, and if they beat Belmont, they will meet No. 6 seed Maryland in Jacksonville at 3:10 p.m., Thursday, following the 12:40 p.m. opener between Yale and LSU.
In a conference call Sunday evening, NCAA selection committee chair and Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir cited several reasons for Temple’s selection.
“We thought Temple had one of the better wins, beating Houston, and only one loss in the third-fourth quadrant [15-1 record], and that was a rival game with fellow Big 5 team Penn,” Muir said. “Temple tied for third in the league, and it [the American Athletic Conference] is a good league, and [they] had a good win over UCF, and that is what ultimately got them in the tournament.”
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Belmont (26-5) is the 42nd overall seed, one ahead of Temple. The Bruins lost to Murray State, 77-65, in the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
This is Temple’s 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance and its first since 2016. The only Temple player who has tournament experience is senior guard Shizz Alston, who played just two minutes in the Owls’ 72-70 overtime loss to Iowa in 2016. Belmont last appeared in the tourney in 2015.
For Temple, being chosen was a huge relief. The Owls likely could have sealed the deal with a win in the AAC Tournament, but, after a first round bye, they lost on Friday to No. 6 Wichita State, 80-74.
The last two days waiting?
“It was ridiculous,” said sophomore Nate Pierre-Louis, voted the co-most improved player in the AAC. “I haven’t been able to sleep since the Wichita State game.”
He won’t get much sleep now, either.
Temple just eked in the tournament, and that is a continuation of its story this season. The Owls wouldn’t be heading to Dayton had they not been so proficient in close games.
Temple is 9-2 in games decided by five points or fewer. That includes a 4-0 record in overtime games.
“We are a veteran team and have been through those situations a lot in the past couple of years, and that has helped us in close games,” said Alston, a first-team all-conference guard.
The Owls want to erase the bitter taste of the disappointing second half of Friday’s game against Wichita State in Memphis.
The Owls were outscored 45-37 and committed 11 turnovers. Alston, who had 18 points in the first half, was held to two over the final 20 minutes.
“I would have hated to go out the way we did in the second half,” Alston said. “My first half was pretty good, and I kind of took my foot off the gas in the second half, and this time around I am not going to make that mistake.”
Belmont is led by Dylan Windler, a 6-8, 200-pound senior swingman who is averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 rebounds.
An unsung player for Temple could be 6-7, 220-pound sophomore De’Vondre Perry, who has been coming off the bench, but he often guards the opponent’s top-scoring forward.
Perry saw Windler play in the Ohio Valley Championship against Murray State.
“He is definitely a workhorse who plays very hard, and I will do my best job on him to limit his impact,” Perry said.
For Temple coach Fran Dunphy, it allows him to get one final shot in the NCAA Tournament. He will be replaced after this season by associate head coach Aaron McKie.
This will be the eighth time Dunphy has guided the Owls to the NCAA tourney in his 13 years. He also took Penn to nine NCAA Tournaments in 17 seasons.
“We are happy, relieved, excited, and fired up getting to go to Dayton to play a really good Belmont team,” Dunphy said.
The Owls are doing so after being on the right side of so many close calls, the latest which came with Sunday’s bid.