MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The thought was that one more win would solidify an NCAA berth for Temple, but the Owls couldn’t finish the deal.
So now, after Friday’s 80-74 loss to Wichita State in an American Athletic Conference quarterfinal, at the FedEx Forum, Temple will surely sweat out Selection Sunday.
“I can’t even put into words how much it would mean," said junior Quinton Rose, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. "I want it for seniors for coach (Fran) Dunphy and also for myself and the rest of the guys and I can’t tell how anxious we are.”
Wichita State, in its second season in the AAC, bounced Temple out of the quarterfinals for the second straight year, after last year’s 89-81 win.
Third-seeded Temple (23-9) seems to have done enough to earn a berth, but with a crowded bubble, nothing is assured.
After the game, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Temple as one of the last four in.
Right now, Temple would settle for a play-in game.
So much will depend on various conference tournaments, including the AAC.
No. 6-seeded Wichita State (19-13) is a team trying to steal a bid. The Shockers meet Cincinnati in Saturday’s semifinal. In the other semifinal, there is another potential bid stealer, Memphis. The host Tigers will face top-seeded Houston.
Shizz Alston led Temple with 20 points, but scored just two in the second half. Center Ernest Aflakpui had 16 points and a career-high 19 rebounds.
In the end, Temple couldn’t stop the Shockers’ big gun, 6-foot-8 senior Markis McDuffie, a second-team all-AAC choice. McDuffie scored a career-high 34 points while adding 12 rebounds. Dexter Dennis, a 6-5 freshman, added 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“I give them great credit, give McDuffie great credit,” Dunphy said. “I appreciate how our guys fought until the end, and we’ve had a lot of really close victories. I was just hoping at the end of this one that we would make it another one tonight, but it didn’t happen.”
The Owls also committed 11 of their 15 turnovers in the second half.
Trailing, 56-54, the Shockers went on an 11-0 run that ended when McDuffie hit both ends of a one-and-one with 8 minutes and 11 seconds left.
Temple would cut it to 65-61 on Quinton Rose’s layup with 6:13 left.
Down, 67-61, Alston, for one of the few times in his career, lost his cool and was assessed a technical foul. McDuffie hit both free throws, padding the lead to 69-61 with 4:58 left.
“I got a little frustrated, yeah, but as a leader, I got to keep my head in those situations,” Alston said.
Still, Temple got within 73-71 when Rose hit two free throws with 1:40 left.
“I thought at that point we were going to win, and we just needed one stop,” Rose said.
WSU’s Samajae Haynes-Jones made a driving layup, Alston missed a three, and Dennis hit two foul shots, making it 77-71 with 40.8 seconds left.
“We gave up a drive to the rim to Haynes-Jones and didn’t guard that possession good enough and that was a big, big play,” Dunphy said.
Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis made two free throws, but Dennis scored on a windmill dunk after getting a length-of-the-court pass from Erik Stevenson. That made it 79-73 with 32 seconds left.
Temple missed two shots on its next possession and the Shockers were headed to Saturday’s semifinal matchup with Cincinnati.
Besides making many clutch shots, Wichita State was 22 of 24 from the foul line, while Temple was 19 of 26.
When Temple beat Wichita State, 85-81 in overtime on Jan. 6, The Owls were outrebounded 41 to 34. This time WSU owned a 41-38 advantage.
"When we played them earlier this year and they killed us on the glass,” Aflakpui said. “Our game plan was go at their bigs and try to rebound and get offensive rebounds.”
Alston and Aflakpui had dominant first halves as Temple took a 37-35 lead into intermission. With four first-half threes, Alston tied Mark Macon for fifth on the all-time Temple career list with 246. Alston also extended his school record of 43 consecutive games with at least one three.
While Alston’s 18 points in the first half weren’t surprising, Aflakpui’s output was shocking. The 6-10 center had 10 points and 10 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. In his previous four games, he totaled seven points and 14 rebounds.
Aflakpui’s biggest play was a block of an attempted dunk by 7-footer Asbjorn Midtgaard. Alston scored a three on the other end, extending Temple’s lead to 33-26 with 4:26 left in the half.
That was the Owls biggest lead, but the Shockers kept coming back, riding McDuffie, who had 15 points (3 of 5 from three) in the first half.
In the first 20 minutes, the Owls’ other two double-figure scorers, Rose and Pierre-Louis, totaled just seven points between them. With that scant offensive production, the Owls had to consider themselves fortunate to be leading at the half.
The second half would be a different story.