The confounding thing about Temple is that Owls have the kind of wins that would typically have them in the conversation an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Owls have earned out-of-conference wins over 11th-ranked Auburn and 20th-ranked Clemson. A schedule that also included games with top-ranked Villanova, No. 8 Cincinnati, 16th-ranked Wichita State, Houston, Georgia and South Carolina is rated the toughest in the nation.
Still, an opportunity is only what a team makes of it. Failure to take advantage of it is why Temple finds itself in its current situation.
Good wins have been accompanied by bad losses, and that leaves Temple with an average record and doubts that it can pass the eye test to make it to the NCAA bubble.
On Thursday night, the Owls had a chance to put another nice mark on their resume against Wichita State and took advantage.
Senior forward Obi Enechionyia sank two free throws late in overtime and Wichita State missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds as Temple pulled off a big 81-79 upset victory at the Liacouras Center.
Quinton Rose scored 19 points to lead five Owls in double figures as Temple (12-10, 4-6 in the American Athletic Conference) beat a team when it was ranked in the top 25 for the first time this season.
Auburn and Clemson weren’t ranked when the Owls beat them.
Certainly, the Owls still have a lot of work to do, but a win like this can lead to the momentum that can carry into the final eight games of the regular season and into the AAC tournament.
“We talk about one game at a time, but these are young guys who think they are all visionaries looking at what’s going to happen at the end of the year,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “This is a huge win for us, with the way it was achieved as well.
“There was a time when we maybe would have hung our head and not kept fighting. I thought the fight was in us for all of the game.”
There were certainly opportunities to give up, especially when Wichita State (17-5, 7-3) went up by 79-74 with 2:11 remaining.
Rose made a three-pointer and then Shizz Alston, who had sent the game to overtime with a layup with seven seconds left in regulation, knotted the game at 79-79 with 1:44 on the clock.
Both teams missed chances to score and then with 24 seconds left, Alston missed a jumper but Nate Pierre-Louis rebounded and kicked it out to Rose, who missed a three-pointer from the wing.
Enechionyia, who scored 11 points, went up for the rebound but was undercut by Landry Shamet, drawing a foul. He calmly made two free throws to give the Owls the win.