DAYTON, Ohio — Temple’s players huddled near midcourt, their emotions still raw after letting an historic upset slip away in the final minutes.
The Owls couldn’t finish what they started.
As they consoled each other, Indiana coach Tom Crean joined them to offer some comfort.
“He told us we were the toughest team he played all year,” Temple star guard Khalif Wyatt said. “He just wanted us to keep our heads up.”
Temple pushed Indiana’s season to the brink before folding in the final minutes and losing 58-52 on Sunday to the top-seeded Hoosiers, who were lucky to advance in the East Regional.
Wyatt scored 31 points — 20 in the first half — but the Owls, who led 52-48 with less than three minutes left, were outscored 10-0 by Indiana down the stretch.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Wyatt said.
The Owls (24-10) nearly became the third Philadelphia-area school to knock off a No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament in Dayton Arena, which has hosted more tournament games that any venue. But minutes away from joining Saint Joseph’s (1981) and Villanova (1985) as giant killers in Ohio, the Owls fell apart.
“It would have been a great victory for us if we had found a way,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “It’s disappointing we’re not going to be moving on.”
Victor Oladipo hit a key 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining and the Hoosiers (28-6) clamped down on defense in the closing minutes to set up a regional semifinal with No. 4 seed Syracuse on Thursday in Washington, a rematch of the classic 1987 title game won by Indiana.
Crean knew his team had been fortunate to escape, and he went out of his way to tell Temple’s players they could hang with any team in the Big Ten, the nation’s best conference this year.
“I have great respect for great competitors,” Crean said. “I haven’t always been great after the end of games, but I did that because they were all there together. Those young men don’t know me and I don’t know them, but I have unbelievable respect for them. If they were in our league, they’d be fighting for a championship, too. They’re that good.”
Oladipo, who spent the afternoon doing all he could to slow down Wyatt, scored 16 and Cody Zeller added 15 for the Hoosiers.
After Oladipo’s long 3 put the Hoosiers up 56-52, Indiana had to buckle down on Wyatt, the Atlantic 10’s Player of the Year who was having one of those games that turn stars into superstars.
But on Temple’s last possession, Wyatt was way off with a 3-pointer from the right wing with six seconds left and Indiana’s Christian Watford grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
With his hands on his hips, Wyatt walked dejectedly up the floor as Dayton Arena rocked and the senior proudly pounded his chest.
There was nothing to be ashamed of, but Wyatt said he felt as if he could have done more to prolong his college career and Temple’s tourney run.
“We competed really hard,” Wyatt said. “We battled. A couple plays here and there, we win. It was just a tough, battled game, and they came out on top.”
Wyatt didn’t have much help.
Anthony Lee scored 10 points, but his layup that would have put the Owls up by four with less than three minutes left, was blocked by Watford.
Senior Scottie Randall, Temple’s second-leading scorer, went 0-for-12 from the field and scoreless in his final game.
“I’ve had days like this,” said Randall, who did have nine rebounds. “The only thing that was going through my head when I was missing was to keep shooting and do other things to try and help my team win.”
And forward Jake O’Brien, the Owls’ best 3-point shooter who transferred to Temple from Boston U. for a chance to play in the tournament, missed his three 3s, didn’t score and was in foul trouble.
This wasn’t the way the Owls wanted to go out.
Not after beating North Carolina State for just their second opening-game win in their last six NCAA appearances.
Dunphy, who had been tagged one-and-Dunphy because of his team’s penchant for early exits, was sad to see his seniors go out with a loss they may remember longer than many of the wins they’ve earned together.
“They’re great guys and they’ll be successful people as they move forward,” he said. “We have to say goodbye to them.”