Two times in the final five minutes, the Billikens sliced Temple's lead to one point. And two times the Owls countered with a demoralizing three-point-play. For the first time all season, the Bills lost a home game, 67-72.
In the post game press conference, a few minutes after the defeat, head coach Rick Majerus appeared weary and despondent, seemingly drained from a big-shot slugfest that featured several solid emotional swings.
"Just more veteran, tough, more physical guards," said Majerus. "They beat us down with athletic ability, size, and strength. Gotta give 'em credit. They're a very good team."
Indeed, this is a team that last week beat Duke, the third ranked team in the nation at the time. It is a team with high potential to make a deep run in March Madness. But still, losing close home games against conference rivals brings a pain that cannot be assuaged by platitudes.
"That one was tough," said Majerus, rubbing his eyes and forehead with his palm. "You look at it tomorrow and it just breaks your heart. It kind of deflates the team, so to speak."
SLU shot under 42 percent from the floor, missing numerous attempts deep in the paint. Kwamain Mitchell needed 6-16 shooting, including 2-9 on two pointers, to score 16 points. Brian Conklin, effective when he posted up on the low block, would go stretches of time without touching the ball, in large part because Temple's off-the-ball defenders keyed the Bills' leading scorer, packing themselves around him on many possessions. He scored 12, but took just 9 shots.
By comparison, the Owls shot over 56 percent from the floor, 59 percent in the second half. More importantly, their two best players easily outperformed the home team's two best players. Wyatt scored 22, sinking 9 of 13, including all three 3-pointers he launched. Moore scored 18, hitting 7 of 14 from the field.
"One and Ten"-- Wyatt's and Moore's respective jersey numbers-- "we knew they were gonna be issues for us. They're issues for a lot of teams," said Majerus. "They played the match-ups."
The Billikens defense, as they have all season, often forced their opponents into difficult looks with hands in their faces and the shot clock nearing zero. This time, however, the opponents drained those shots.
"Those upperclass guards are tough," said Majerus, citing a three Wyatt nailed during a particularly hot stretch early in the second half. "That shot in the right corner, we couldn't have played that any better."
The Billikens next play at Charlotte on Saturday.
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