DAYTON, Ohio – One-and-done. Temple knows that has become its reputation when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, leaving the Owls with an overriding goal for their trip to Dayton.
They want to leave town with no clean clothes after a weekend-long stay.
The ninth-seeded Owls (23-9) are in the tournament for the sixth straight season. In four of the past five, they were knocked out in their opening game, including a 58-44 loss to South Florida last year when they had a No. 5 seed.
They’ll play eighth-seeded N.C. State (24-10) this afternoon, knowing their reputation will be up in the air along with the opening tip.
One-and-done? Or something more?
“We’ve got a little chip on our shoulder this year,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. “We want to prove that we can belong here and that we can make a run at this thing.”
The school with a rich basketball tradition hasn’t made a deep run in the tournament since 2001, when the Owls reached the Elite Eight. There was a seven-year gap before they reappeared at the tournament, albeit in those cameo appearances.
They lost their opening games in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They beat Penn State in 2011, finally ending coach Fran Dunphy’s record of 11 straight NCAA tournament losses – and those “One-and-Dunphy” headlines – before falling to San Diego State in double overtime.
Last year, they headed back to Philadelphia again after just 40 minutes on court. Given their expectations and their No. 5 seed, that one really hurt. And the Owls know a lot of folks filling out their brackets this year are expecting another fizzle.
“We’ve been here six straight years, and we only won one first-round game,” Wyatt said. “So the fact that people pick N.C. State is not a surprise. But that’s just added motivation for us and a chance for us to go out there and prove some people wrong.”
The Owls received a bit of good news leading up to the game. Six-foot-nine forward Anthony Lee – their top rebounder – is expected to play after being checked out for a possible concussion after Temple’s loss in the Atlantic 10 tournament. He’s desperately needed against the Wolfpack’s bigger front line.
“He looks pretty good right now,” Dunphy said. “He practiced a little bit (Wednesday). We did a little bit more (Thursday), and doctors are hopeful.
“We’re planning on Anthony playing. How much? I don’t know. He hasn’t played. He hasn’t run that much over the last week, so there’s a question there.”
Even if he plays, the Wolfpack will be looking to pass the ball inside in a game that well could come down to which team is better up front. Lee is the only Temple starter who is taller than 6-foot-6.
“I think it’s real big for us to take advantage of that,” 6-foot-8 Wolfpack forward Richard Howell said. “They definitely lack in size, and that’s something we want to use to our advantage.”
N.C. State also wants to push the pace and pressure Temple’s guards, who were behind the Owls’ late-season surge of seven straight wins. Six-foot-4 guard Khalif Wyatt was the A-10’s player of the year after leading the league with 19.8 points per game.
“He’s very crafty when he’s dribbling the ball,” Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie said. “He’s one of the craftiest guys I’ve seen this year.”
The Wolfpack hasn’t been to the tournament as often as Temple lately, but they’ve shown some staying power when they made it. N.C. State made the tournament six times previously since 2002, winning at least one game in five of those appearances.
Last year, they beat San Diego State and Georgetown in nearby Columbus, Ohio to reach the round of 16, where they lost to Kansas 60-57.
N.C. State’s reference point for this year’s appearance goes back much farther. It’s the 30-year anniversary of its national title under coach Jim Valvano, and that clip of the coach joyously running around the court has been replayed a lot.
“There’s so much tradition and history and so much reference regularly around our school to 1983,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “So our guys know about it. They watched the (television) show (about it). But I think they’re interested in making their own history.
“They tasted it last year a little bit. They wanted to do something special. So they’re certainly aware of that, but I think they’re interested in trying to make their own mark right now.”