PHILADELPHIA– There is not a more stressful time for a college basketball team than late February when you’re on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Every win means a little extra as does every loss, especially against an inferior team.
As we reach the home stretch of the 2018-19 College Basketball season, the Temple Owls find themselves squarely on that bubble, an extremely tight bubble at that.
As a team outside the of the power 6 conferences, a loss to a team with a losing record in conference play would cripple the Owls and would put their NCAA Tournament hopes in extreme danger.
Temple walked away with an 84-73 victory over Tulsa (16-12, 6-9 in AAC play) at the Liacouras Center on Saturday afternoon.
It was a rocky first half for Temple as they jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead at the first media timeout, but cold shooting allowed Tulsa to comeback and cut the halftime deficit to within one point as it was 31-30 at the break in favor of the Owls.
The second half was a completely different story for Temple though as they scored 53 points in the second frame and put Tulsa away for good.
“I told them once we got on a run we had to step on their throat,” Temple senior guard Shizz Alston said. “We kept letting them back in so we just had to step on their neck once we got shots to fall.”
The one negative that came from the second half however is that Temple allowed 43 points to Tulsa compared to the 30 allowed in the first half.
“Second half I thought our offense was very good but I don’t think our defense was very solid in the second half,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “But we moved the ball, we didn’t stand as much, I think there were opportunities that Shizz took on his own so I think it was a combination of making shots and guy’s reading how Shizz was making his penetration.”
Alston led the way with 24 points on 9-19 shooting, 4-9 from deep, to go along with five rebounds and seven assists.
“Shizz is having a terrific year,” Dunphy said. “I’m very proud of him and everything that he does, he’s totally in on the planning and the process because at this stage of his career, that’s how much confidence you have in him, he’s a real smart guy who understands the game and he’s got a feel, he’s out there, he’s the guy in the arena so I think you can count on his council.”
Junior wing Quinton Rose finished with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, going 2-6 from three and going 7-7 from the foul line as well.
The one downside to their good performances though is their playing time. Alston was on the floor for 38 of the 40 full minutes and Rose was out there for 31.
“I think basically less is more at this time of year,” Dunphy said. “Tomorrow we’ll convene, we’ll watch a lot of film, we’ll study, we won’t do much on the court, but we need to plan for a whole different kind of game at Memphis so we got a lot of studying to do, got a lot of work to do to prepare for Memphis but we did give them the right time off.”
The win improves the Owls to 20-7 and 10-4 in the AAC, good for third place in the conference. The win also gives Dunphy his ninth 20-win season in his 13 years as head coach of the Owls.
A tough four-game stretch awaits for Temple as they begin their stretch by heading down to Memphis on Tuesday.
“That’s a Quad 1 opportunity for us and that will help us maybe get off the bubble and solid into the tournament,” Alston said. “They’ve been playing well so we’re going to have our work cut out for us but it should be a good one.”
They then take on Tulane (who is 0-13 in conference play) on March 3. After that, it’s two games in three days for Temple as they take on UConn in Storrs on March 7, and then welcome another NCAA Tournament bubble team in UCF for the final game of the season.
With the bubble watch intensifying more and more as the days go on, you’ll hear coaches and players say that they don’t pay attention to the bubble watch, they solely focus on themselves. Not Alston.
“I do it every day,” Alston said. “That’s something I really want to get in the tournament so I’m constantly checking scores, but I know we have to do our part first and win every game to put us in position.”
With two opportunities for quad 1 wins coming up (at Memphis, vs. UCF), the Owls have put themselves in a really good position to potentially solidify their spot in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
It’s what the Owls do with these golden opportunities that will ultimately decide their fate.
“You have to know what you’re playing for,” Alston said. “Extra little motivation to know that every game is a championship game, but we just got to focus on ourselves right now and try to get as many wins as possible.”