HARTFORD, Conn. - The risks and rewards were out there on the floor at the XL Center, with Temple's season on the line. A trainer had walked over and whispered in Fran Dunphy's ear, confirming what the Owls coach already had suspected, that power forward Jaylen Bond was done for the afternoon with a sprained ankle.
For the last 9 minutes, 34 seconds of Friday's American Athletic Conference quarterfinal against Memphis, the Owls stuck to four guards and a freshman forward on the court, their NCAA hopes maybe contingent on how that worked out.
Was such a lineup a no-brainer for Dunphy? "It's a hope, to be honest with you," the Temple coach said after the Owls had survived, 80-75.
Standing later in a hallway, Dunphy said it might not be fair to ask someone to jump out there cold for a few minutes, "so you just go with those guys that brung you at that point, and just take your chances. We were in a little risk-reward, a little difficult at one end . . . I was thinking, 'What are we going to do about it?' But then we drove it to the rim at the other end."
After Temple had worked out an eight-point lead, fewer than four minutes remaining, Memphis got it back down to three points before Temple regained possession. There was a basket and a foul, and a missed foul shot rebounded by Memphis, a made free throw and then a miss - which was better for Memphis anyway since it got another rebound.
Playing for their lives, the Tigers almost made it a six-point possession, but a three-pointer didn't go down. Temple again couldn't corral the rebound. Memphis got four of its 14 offensive rebounds in one 52-second possession.
So, the risk was too high? The reward appeared seconds later. Memphis had to defend those four Temple guards. Owls guard Quenton DeCosey seized the matchup advantage, immediately driving. The junior scored and was fouled and converted a three-point play.
Memphis eventually tied the game with 41 seconds remaining. Maybe the risk would have proved too great had freshman Obi Enechionyia not made a huge offensive play, which actually started with an Enechionyia fumble. He hadn't handled a pass from point guard Will Cummings cleanly, but Cummings dove to the floor and was able to get his hand on the ball and send it back to Enechionyia, who scored and was fouled and hit the free throw. If the play was a lucky one, Cummings made the luck when he hit the floor.
Temple center Devontae Watson had given the Owls some huge minutes at both ends of the court, and Dunphy said later that Watson would have gone back in if Enechionyia had picked up his fifth foul. Dunphy wasn't going to stretch the risks and rewards too far and not have a big man on the floor at all.
"Let's say I decide to throw Devontae in there and is he going to get to the foul line - I'm concerned about those kinds of things," Dunphy said, obviously aware his starting center is a 47 percent free-throw shooter, a big reason Watson isn't in there usually down the stretch. "It's a feel."
Another risk-reward call: Temple is a man-to-man defensive team. Dunphy suddenly switched to a 2-3 with a five-point lead. That surprise factor may have led to Owls guard Josh Brown's steal and a layup by Cummings. Then Memphis adjusted and hit a three-pointer.
It was all playing out in real time. For Temple, DeCosey is like a walking risk-reward. Yeah, throwing the ball backward high in the air when he was trapped looked more like a rec center play than something you'd do down the stretch with an NCAA bid on the line. That turnover was more than offset, however, by DeCosey's rebounds and his drives and his steel at the foul line. His fearlessness always hits the asset column.
The real bottom line wasn't necessarily that Dunphy was going with four guards and a forward; he was going with the guys he thought could make plays. Just enough of them made Dunphy's 500th career win one of his more consequential. It's almost impossible now to imagine that 23-9 Temple won't hear its name called Sunday when the NCAA field is announced. It's not just the Owls' resume factoring into that. The bubble has constricted the last several days.
A victory Saturday over Larry Brown's Southern Methodist Mustangs would take away the last 1 percent of doubt. For that one, Bond's availability is a question mark at best. So look for more minute-by-minute risk-reward assessments.
Asked at his news conference about the challenges of facing SMU's coach, Dunphy said, "It's not a box of chocolates by any stretch."