NEW YORK - Temple had a chance to make a statement on Madison Square Garden's fabled hardwood Tuesday night. The Owls had an opportunity to prove they could beat a team from the most prestigious conference in college basketball.
So what did coach Fran Dunphy's Owls do with their big shot?
They missed it.
The Owls, in fact, missed over and over and over again during the second half of a 60-57 NIT semifinal loss to Miami that ended their season.
Temple could have and even should have beaten a Miami team that earlier this season pinned a 16-point loss on Duke with all the Cameron Crazies watching on the Blue Devils' home court.
This was also a Miami team that nine days after the Duke victory beat North Carolina State, the team that put an unceremonious end to Villanova's season in the round of 32 of the far more prestigious college basketball tournament.
By beating the Hurricanes, Temple could have beaten its chest about its NCAA tournament snub and its players could have spent more time in Manhattan.
Instead, the Owls will be back at class Wednesday on the school's North Broad Street campus.
Do the simple math and it's easy to understand why.
With 4 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first half, the Owls had a 27-16 lead and had hit 9 of 19 shots overall and 2 of 4 from three-point range. But Temple wound up missing 44 of its 63 shots in the game, including all 15 it took from three-point range in the second half.
The last of those three-point attempts was launched by junior Quenten DeCosey as time expired. It looked as if it had a chance to tie the game but it clanked off the back of the rim, triggering a Miami celebration at midcourt.
"Obviously we shot poorly," Dunphy said after Temple finished its season 26-11. "I think most of them were decent looks. There was probably two or three that were rushed that we could have maybe shot-faked and gone to the basket, maybe a little drive-and-kick action. There was maybe another possession or two that we needed to make an extra pass and we did not."
Senior point guard Will Cummings had a particularly difficult end to his outstanding Owls career, making just 3 of 15 shots. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and had trouble finishing when he got to the rim.
"Shots just didn't go in," Cummings said. "That's really just all there is to it. Any other day, they are probably going in. We just didn't make them today."
Ragged is the best way to describe the way Temple played in its final game. Given the opportunity to show a national television audience that they belonged in the NCAA tournament, the Owls did a better job of showing why they did not belong.
Dunphy, deeply disappointed on Selection Sunday, confessed after this defeat that maybe Temple did not do enough to make the NCAA tournament. The Owls certainly did not do enough in the NIT tournament to make the selection committee think otherwise.
"Well, we didn't do enough to get into the NCAA tournament, no matter what we think," Dunphy said. "We just didn't do enough. We needed another win, maybe two, who knows, but we didn't get that done. But we were really proud to be in the NIT. I think it was a tremendous tournament for us."
"Tremendous" might be an overstatement, but like the Temple season itself, the NIT run was a nice step back in the right direction for an Owls team that endured a miserable 2013-14 season.
"Well, I thought we had a really terrific season for this particular group," Dunphy said. "I thought they played hard. They did what they needed to do for the most part."
Interestingly, it was a freshman who declared after Tuesday night's loss that Temple can do more. As his experienced teammates struggled to score, Obi Enechionyia played his best game of the season. The first-year forward connected on 5 of 9 shots and all seven of his free throws to finish with a career-high 17 points. He also had eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
It was the kind of performance that made you wonder if he could be the foundation of a program that is trying to prove it is big-time again.
"Yeah, it's something to build off," Enechionyia said. "Just having this kind of bad taste from this game and coming back and just trying to be more successful next year. We had a good season and I'm proud of the seniors, but you can always do more and I just want to do more next season."
He will need to do more as a sophomore if Temple is going to get back to that other postseason tournament.