WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA— While Temple’s emotions ranged from apprehensiveness to euphoria on Selection Sunday, the Owls quickly returned to business focus in practice on Monday afternoon, with the team’s mantra being to embrace the moment at hand.
The moment, which begins on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, has No. 10 seeded Temple facing the No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes in the South Region’s first round of the NCAA Tournament, an experience that the team feels was rightfully earned.
“I think we’re trying to prove that we can make a little bit of a run, that we belong in the Tournament,” said Owls’ guard Quenton DeCosey. “We know what we have in front of us.”
Three other American Athletic Conference teams- Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Tulsa, also belong in the 68-team bracket, a feat that shows the American Conference receiving more respect, according to Owls’ head coach Fran Dunphy.
“I think it made a nice statement that people are starting to respect our league even more so,” said Dunphy. “They value the fact that we had the opportunity to win our league in the regular season. The longer we go as an established league, the more respect we will get.”
Of the 13 players on the Owls’ roster, only four (all seniors) have Tournament experience, but for freshman guard Levan Shawn Alston, Jr., a trip to the dance in his first season reassures that he made the right college choice.
“I’ve never experienced this big of a stage,” said Alston. “AAU season was kind of big. We had a lot of college coaches around, but I’ve never experienced something this big.”
Forward Obi Enechionyia, who rooms with Alston on road trips, flourished in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) last season as a freshman, scoring 17 points with eight rebounds in Temple’s 60-57 semifinal loss to Miami (FL) at Madison Square Garden.
“I know how it feels to be snubbed,” said Enechionyia. “Last year we got into the NIT and could’ve just given up, but we kept fighting. We had a lot of great leaders that kept us in the games.”
While last year ended in disappointment under the impactful leadership of senior guard Will Cummings, senior forward Jaylen Bond has succeeded Cummings this season as team captain, approaching the Tournament as a vocal leader and mentor to the underclassmen.
“He leads by example by working hard, playing great defense, and he’s also very vocal,” said Alston. “If you mess up, Jaylen will get on you and give you plenty of criticism.”
Bond, who scored 34 points in two games last weekend in the American Tournament, knows that time is running out, and that his last collegiate game could come as soon as Friday.
“You never know when you’re going to get in again, so you just play every game like it’s your last,” said Bond.
Iowa (21-10), who was once ranked as high as No. 3 in the AP Top-25 rankings, struggled in the closing weeks of the regular season, losing six of their last eight games, including a loss to 15-18 Illinois in the Big Ten quarterfinals on March 11.
“They’ve struggled a little bit, but you can’t pay attention to that,” Bond said. “They’re a great team. They’re in the tournament for a reason.”
While the wait for Friday may feel perpetual, the trip to New York City won’t be, as four Owls from New Jersey and New York are excited to be playing close to home.
“It’s great to play so close,” said Enechionyia. “That what I was hoping for. Most of our families get to come up and watch us.”
The rest of the country will be watching at 3 p.m. on truTV, as Temple once again looks to receive national recognition in the Big Apple.
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