For 39 minutes, 42 seconds, the possible final chapter of a storied rivalry between the Massachusetts men’s basketball team and Temple was everything fans on both sides could have asked for.
UMass had the ball down by one with 17.6 seconds left on the clock, with one last possession to decide the final victor of the series in the 65th — and last Atlantic 10 — meeting between the two programs.
But when Freddie Riley’s back-door pass to Chaz Williams was deflected away from the basket, the clock expired without a final shot attempt to decide the game, providing an anti-climatic finish as Temple raced off the Mullins Center floor with an 83-82 victory in front of an electric 7,438 on Saturday night.
The Owls will leave the Atlantic 10 for the Big East next year.
“I guess that’s probably what’s expected out of the last conference UMass-Temple game,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said, “I guess a thriller that competes with some of the ones we’ve had over the years.”
Williams started the final play by driving to the right, but coughed up the ball. Riley was there to corral the loose ball, drove from right-to-left towards the middle of the paint, but picked up his dribble when the Owls defense surrounded him. Riley looked around and tried to hit Williams cutting to the basket with a bounce pass through traffic, but the ball was deflected. Both teams dove for the ball, but the horn sounded, leaving those in attendance left in silence trying to digest the final play.
The referees reviewed to see if a jump-ball whistle came before the final buzzer, but the initial call was upheld and Temple survived.
Temple guard Khalif Wyatt, the A-10’s leading scorer, fought through a poor first half for the Owls to finish with a game-high 24 points, going 6-of-10 from the field and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc in the second half. He had 17 points in the second half alone, as he appeared to force his way through his shooting skid through the first 20 minutes.
“He’s an extraordinary offensive player,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “He made a couple of threes that were really tough, but that’s what he does.”
Riley finished with 17 points to lead the Minutemen, while Williams had a double-double (16 points, 13 assists) and Cady Lalanne had 14 points and 12 boards off the bench.
After Williams cut the deficit to 80-79, Scottie Randall drilled a three in the corner to extend the Owls’ lead to two possessions at 83-79 with 1:25 remaining. But Riley responded with a triple of his own to bring the tilt back within a point.
Williams then stole the ball away from Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and passed it up the court to Riley, who misfired on a pull-up 3-pointer. Hollis-Jefferson then missed a tip-in at the rim, Williams corralled the rebound, raced across half court and called timeout, which set up the final play.
Lalanne dominated the first half, outmuscling Temple in the paint to get easy, undeterred looks at the rim. All 14 of his points came in the opening frame on 7-of-9 shooting, but the Owls made the necessary adjustments to front Lalanne on the block and cave in on him when he had possession under the basket. He finished 0-for-2 in the second half.
Kellogg felt that in addition to those adjustments, Lalanne didn’t have the same energy or “the same pop that he had in the first half.”
“I thought they did a good job of reaching in there and whacking him,” Kellogg said. “They were kind of getting in there and hitting him.
“I think as he gets older and more mature, he’ll play through the guard coming down there and hitting him, but they did a better job of surrounding him,” he continued. “I thought they did a better job of boxing him out, and his energy probably just has to be carried for 40 minutes.”
Saturday’s contest marked the last meeting between UMass and Temple for the foreseeable future. The Owls finished the all-time conference series with a 44-21 advantage, but only hold a 23-21 advantage in the last 44 meetings.
The Minutemen are back in action Wednesday night as they travel to St. Bonaventure.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.