HARTFORD, Conn - In these times when there is no margin for error for the growing list of bubble teams, Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy drew heavily on his depth to keep his team's NCAA hopes alive.
The Owls bench outscored Memphis' reserves, 20-5, during a pulsating 80-75 win over the Tigers in an American Athletic Conference quarterfinal Friday at the XL Center.
Normally a win like this for the 23-9 Owls would stamp their NCAA ticket, and it eventually could. But many other teams are also in close position, so it's difficult to tell at this point.
What is known is that Temple will get a chance to solidify matters by winning its AAC semifinal against regular-season champion SMU, guided by former 76ers coach Larry Brown, at 3 p.m. Saturday.
A loss to Memphis could have put the Owls in a hole the size of the Grand Canyon.
As a subplot, Dunphy reached a major milestone by improving his career record at both Penn and Temple to 500-269.
"Well as far as 500, we don't have to talk about it anymore. That's a good thing," Dunphy said.
The coach and the players also never talk about NCAA ramifications, but there was an obvious sense of relief.
"We survived and move on to play a very good SMU team," Dunphy said.
Obi Enechionyia, a 6-foot-9 freshman, led the bench brigade with nine points and four rebounds. Guard Josh Brown hit his only two shots, both from beyond the arc, for six points, He also played his usual stellar defense. Daniel Dingle had two points and four rebounds, while Devin Coleman hit a big first-half three-pointer.
The bench's role became more magnified when defensive stopper Jaylen Bond sprained his ankle late in the first half and never returned. His status for Saturday is unknown.
Of course, Memphis (18-14) was playing without all-conference forward Austin Nichols, who was out with his own ankle injury. But the Tigers fought like crazy.
Down by 66-58 after Temple's Quenton DeCosey hit two foul shots with 3 minutes, 41 seconds remaining, the Tigers tied it at 71 on a jumper by Trashon Burrell with 48 seconds left.
Then came the biggest play of the game, when Temple point guard and leader Will Cummings dived onto the floor and somehow flicked a loose ball to Enechionyia, who made the close shot, and ensuing free throw, with 39 seconds left. The Owls led by 74-71 and would never trail again.
"When I saw him get on the ground, I knew he would pass to me," Enechionyia said. "He looked straight at me and I was ready for it, and I knew I had to make the play."
Added Cummings, who scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half: "It was a loose ball, so I just tried to dive on the floor and get it."
It wasn't, just the reserves who came through. Starting center Devontae Watson had eight points, one shy of his season high, in 15 minutes.
The Owls played with a four-guard lineup down the stretch. The 6-5 DeCosey, playing power forward, used his quickness to drive by defenders. He had 14 points and eight rebounds. Jesse Morgan hit a couple of big early threes and finished with 13 points.
The Owls were hurt by, among others, Calvin Godfrey, a 6-8 senior who entered the game averaging 3.8 points and finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Another key was foul shooting. Temple entered the game shooting 67.7 percent from the line, but was 22 for 29 (75.9 percent), including 17 of 20 in the second half (85 percent). In the second half, Cummings hit all 10 of his foul shots.
So now the Owls will attempt to pad their NCAA resumé. If they get in, they will look back to their two games with Memphis as the potential difference.
That first game, a 61-60 win at Memphis, was won by Brown's jumper with 2.4 seconds left. This one was achieved through a total team effort from the first starter to the ninth man on the bench.