ATLANTIC CITY - Temple University's final appearance at Boardwalk Hall for the Atlantic 10 Conference men's basketball tournament ended a lot earlier than expected.
The top-seeded Owls and their rabid Wild Cherry cheering section won't be around for the rest of the weekend. Eighth-seeded University of Massachusetts knocked them out of the tourney with a 77-71 victory in the quarterfinals Friday.
"I'd like to congratulate Atlantic City and the Atlantic 10 for setting up a good weekend for us," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "But we didn't do a good enough job (to stick around). UMass deserved to win the game. They wanted it a little bit more than we did."
But Temple's season is not over. Currently ranked 21st nationally, the Owls (24-7) are almost certain to earn a bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament.
But the Owls were hoping to watch the selection show Sunday after cutting down the nets at Boardwalk Hall. They had won three of the last four A-10 tournaments at the arena and were expected to at least reach the final this year after winning the regular-season title.
Instead, they were headed back to their North Philadelphia campus Friday evening. UMass (22-10) advanced to today's semifinals against St. Bonaventure, which defeated Saint Joseph's 71-68. The Minutemen seek their first A-10 tournament championship since they won four straight from 1993-96 behind standouts such as Atlantic City High School graduate Lou Roe.
Roe, who is now playing professionally in Argentina, helped the Minutemen win in 1993-95. He was the A-10 Player of the Year in 1995 and a second-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons that year.
UMass has never made the final since the tournament came to Atlantic City in 2007. The tournament is leaving Boardwalk Hall after this season for a five-year run at the Barclays Center, which is under construction, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"To say the least, I'm very proud of my team," said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who was a star for the Minutemen from 1992-95. "We were able to get a win in Atlantic City that's eluded us for some time now. I'm hoping we can make a little noise here this weekend."
The Minutemen fans were plenty loud during the second half while watching their favorite team rally from a 36-31 deficit.
UMass opened the second half with a 15-0 run that stunned the Owls' large cheering section, cheerleaders and dance team. Sophomore guard Jesse Morgan, sophomore forward Raphiael Putney and junior forward Terrell Vinson all swished 3-pointers during the surge. Senior center Sean Carter capped the rally with a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop pass from dynamic sophomore point guard Chaz Williams that put the Minutemen ahead 46-36 with 15 minutes, 56 seconds left in regulation.
"Obviously, my halftime speech was really stirring," Dunphy said with a small smile. "We wound up sucking the air out of ourselves and giving oxygen to UMass."
Temple fought back, however.
Senior guards Ramon Moore and Juan Fernandez each hit a pair of 3-pointers to spark a 19-6 run. Fernandez's shot from the corner put the Owls ahead 61-57 with 8:03 remaining.
UMass' smallest player came up big down the stretch.
Williams, who is generously listed at 5-foot-9, scored eight of his 20 points in the final 6:28 to help the Minutemen stage yet another rally. He also dished out 10 assists overall against just one turnover, including a pass to Morgan (game-high 21 points) that resulted in a 3-pointer that put UMass ahead for good at 65-64 with 4:50 left.
More importantly, his non-stop hustle and feisty attitude provided UMass with some much-needed energy and enthusiasm.
"Chaz has brought great poise to our team," Carter said. "He's a young guy, but he's mature on the court and basketball is his passion. He brings us energy, which is something coach (Kellogg) is always harping on us about. It's crazy, but when we're playing hard like that, some of the weirdest things happen for us. It's all about making the 'tough man' plays."
When the game ended, UMass' small-but-boisterous cheering section showered the Minutemen with cheers.
A few yards away, the Temple band gathered its instruments while the university's previously rowdy fans - more than a few of whom had painted their torsos red and white - draped Temple rally towels over their heads.
"During my five years here, we've always done a good job at this tournament and now we're out on the first day," Moore said. "This hurts a lot. This is our last go-round and we wanted it as bad as anybody. This is going to be a very tough two days for us now."
Wyatt benched early
Junior guard Khalif Wyatt led Temple with 15 points. Normally a starter, he was benched at the beginning for what Dunphy termed a "timing issue." "He's a really good guy and there's not a malicious bone in his body," Dunphy said. "On occasion he thinks his time is more important than everybody else's, so it puts the control in my hands and I have do something. It's disappointing. I was hoping we wouldn't get to this point, but that's what happened."
Contact David Weinberg:
Totals 27-62 14-20 77.
TEMPLE (24-7)Totals 26-57 12-15 71Halftime3-Point Goals-Fouled Out-Rebounds-Assists-Total Fouls-A-