DENVER - It is all like a dream, the days leading up to the start of the NCAA Tournament. You fight for your bid, spending yourself completely. You see your name posted on the big television screen and you have a party. They hustle you onto a plane, and your coaches watch video until their eyeballs bleed, and you put in your game plan and try to get some sleep and try to tell yourself that it's a big game, yes, but it's just like every other big game.
It is all this great tumble of ideas and emotions.
And then they turn on the lights.
And then you find out.
In the case of the Temple Owls, it was a long way to travel to learn a hard lesson. In the case of seniors Mark Tyndale and Chris Clark, it was a sudden end to the greatest run of their college careers.
That's another thing they only tell you in the fine print when they hand you the tickets to the NCAA Tournament: The ending for all but one of the 65 teams in the field is awful.
And so it was written: Michigan State 72, Temple 61, a score that pretty accurately reflects how the morning/early afternoon went. In an odd, quiet atmosphere at the start - in a game that began at 10:30 a.m. local time - the Owls were done before they had set the table for lunch here in the Mountain time zone.
For Temple, Tyndale was the leading scorer with 16 points and Ryan Brooks had 14. Dionte Christmas, the team's leading scorer all season, had only three points and shot 1-for-12. For Michigan State, Raymar Morgan was the leading scorer with 15 points.
"It was just ... good help defense," Christmas said. "Those guys helped each other a lot. They were very physical. That was one of the most physical teams I've played against ... ever."
It will be a difficult ride home for Temple because you want to go out playing your best. If there is a secret hope of every coach and every player in this tournament, that is it. Because there are only a handful, really, who believe they can win the whole thing. For the rest, the desire is to win a game, yes, but to go down swinging most of all.
These Temple kids and this Temple coaching staff is going to have to deal with that, too, in the coming days and months. Because they didn't play their best, especially at the beginning. They spent the whole first half trying to find a way to create shooting opportunities for their two big offensive weapons, Christmas and Tyndale, but they almost never succeeded.
Christmas was 0-for-4 shooting in the first half, Tyndale 1-for-4. (Christmas didn't score his first points until 13:25 remained in the second half.) The idea that Temple could even think about winning a game that way was absurd, but there it was. Michigan State did the stout defensive thing and the Owls had no answers. They got a slow pace, which many believed would work in favor of the Owls, but they just couldn't get anything done on the offensive end.
"I think it's a terrific, terrific man-to-man defensive basketball team," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "I thought they switched out on Dionte great. He was always contested."
Consider: Before Ryan Brooks hit three jumpers in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the first half, Temple had made only five baskets in the half. They went more than 6 minutes without a bucket at one point, and nearly 6 minutes without a bucket at another point. Christmas and Tyndale were reduced to begging for foul calls when their three-pointers missed badly.
It was all very frustrating, and the emotion and strain were written on all of their faces. The Owls, trailing by 35-26 at the half, never made any kind of real run at the Spartans in the second half. Trailing at one point by 58-39, it is to their credit that the Owls did cut the lead to 10 points, 64-54, when Tyndale scored on a driving layup with 3:40 to go. But that was as close as they got.
The game ended with one final driving layup by Tyndale, their warrior. It was a typical Tyndale play, a typical Tyndale picture, and then it was over. *
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