In the winding seconds of Tuesday’s win over Duquesne, the student section at the Mullins Center chanted, “We want Temple!”
On Friday afternoon, they’ll get the rematch they’ve been waiting for.
Just nine days removed from its overtime loss to the Owls in Philadelphia, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will get its second crack at the Atlantic 10 tournament’s top seed in the quarterfinals in Atlantic City, N.J.
UMass’ 90-88 overtime loss to then-No. 21 Temple on Feb. 29 may be as close to a moral victory as it gets for UMass coach Derek Kellogg.
“If there ever could be a moral victory, which I’m not really fan of, that would be it,” said Kellogg in reference to its last matchup against the Owls.
The Minutemen (21-10, 9-7 A-10), who are the eighth seed in the A-10 tournament, erased a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to knot the score at 80 and send the game into overtime. But UMass relinquished an 86-80 lead in the extra frame as Khalif Wyatt delivered the game-winning lay-up for Temple in transition.
Jesse Morgan’s runner rimmed out and Maxie Esho couldn’t put back the offensive rebound in the Minutemen’s final possession, as UMass nearly pulled off the upset.
Chaz Williams nearly had a triple-double in the game with 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Terrell Vinson led the charge early on with 14 first-half points before fouling out with three minutes, 52 seconds remaining in regulation. The junior finished with just 16 points for the contest.
While UMass gave Temple everything it could handle in the last matchup, Kellogg said he knows that the Owls will be ready for them the second time around.
“Temple’s [going to] be 100 percent ready, especially with how that game ended last time going into overtime,” he said.
The Owls were idle during the first round of the tournament after earning a bye as the top seed. Saint Louis, Xavier and St. Bonaventure also earned a free pass to Atlantic City to round out the top four seeds.
There was no rest for the Minutemen, however, who are coming off of a gritty, 92-83, victory over the Dukes on Tuesday in which the team had to battle the entire way through to scrap out the hard-fought win.
The pace of the game had a different feel than previous games at the Mullins Center as UMass typically embarked on huge runs to put the opposition away. Although it took 35 minutes, the Minutemen iced Duquesne with a 14-5 run in the final five minutes to grab the win.
UMass can expect similar tempo games come playoff time. As postseason play arrives, teams typically have to win with their half-court play, as opponents are more cognizant of limiting fast-break opportunities. Tuesday’s win was no exception, as the Minutemen were limited to just eight points in that regard.
While this didn’t hurt UMass in the first round, it is worth keeping an eye against the Owls. One of the staples of the Minutemen offense is forcing turnovers and getting easy buckets in transition using the slate of athleticism on their roster.
If UMass gets past Temple, it will continue on the most difficult path towards the A-10 championship game of the eight teams remaining.
Looking ahead, the Minutemen would face the winner of fifth seeded Saint Joseph’s (20-12, 9-7 A-10) and fourth seeded St. Bonaventure (17-11, 10-6 A-10) in the semifinals on Saturday. The championship game would be the following day on Sunday.
UMass posted a 2-1 mark against its hypothetical semifinal opponents, with nine-point victories over both the Hawks (Jan. 14) and Bonnies (Feb. at the Mullins Center. However, the Minutemen fell at Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 11, 73-62.
Barring an A-10 title, it appears unlikely that UMass will be able to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. Heading into Friday’s contest against Temple, the Minutemen are 79th in the RPI ranking system with 68 teams making the big dance.
While UMass is the lowest seed remaining in the A-10 tournament, it has shown that on any given night it can compete with the best, as it did last time out against the Owls.
It will take similar efforts in three consecutive games if Kellogg and the rest of the Minutemen want to bring their already magical season to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.