Temple basketball survives scare, beats Drexel

Quinton Rose, right, of Temple goes up for a shot against Drexel forward Austin Williams in the first half at the Liacouras Center on Dec. 16.

If the process for selecting the 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament, especially the 36 at-large bids, was more objective, it would be easier to understand.

It is not,  however, and that generally leaves coaches in a quagmire of trying to the figure out the formula for getting enough wins and also beating quality opponents.

Temple has played a strong out-of-conference schedule and has quality wins over Power Five Conference schools Auburn and South Carolina of the SEC, Clemson of the ACC, and Wisconsin of the Big Ten.

It benefits the Owls to keep the pendulum tilted in their favor

With that in mind, the game Temple played against Drexel on Saturday was likely more important to the Owls’ NCAA fate than their loss earlier in the week to No.1-ranked Villanova.

A loss to the top team in the land isn’t all that damaging in the long run.

A “bad loss,” however, can stick. It can linger and find its way into March conversations.

In was by the narrowest of margins that Temple avoided a “bad loss” with a hard-fought 63-60 victory over Drexel on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.

Forward Obi Enechionyia sank two free throws with 10.9 seconds remaining, and Drexel’s Kurk Lee missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, as the Owls (7-3) held on for the win.

Temple led by nine at the half, but the Dragons (5-6) kept chasing the Owls and caught them with 5:32 remaining. Then it was just a matter of which team would make enough plays down the stretch.

Alihan Demir scored 16 for Drexel, while Austin Williams had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think we needed this one – a tough one, down to the wire, just to get our hearts pumping,” said Owls guard Shizz Alston Jr., who led Temple with 12 points. “We wanted to win bigger than this, but I think we needed to fight this one out.”

That the Owls did could mean a lot more in March.

Temple losing to Drexel at home would not look good on the resume.

The Owls came into Saturday with a Rating Percentage Index of 12 – which is higher than most teams ranked in the Top 25. A loss to Drexel, which had an RPI of 217, would act as a negative counterweight.

Unless the Owls win the American Athletic Conference Tournament, they will probably be lumped with those teams that are in the bubble zone.

If the final call is close, a “bad” loss can sometimes have more influence than a “good” win. Temple avoided that.