You would have never known the two teams on the floor finished eighth and ninth place in the American Athletic Conference. Apparently, desperation provides great motivation.
In the first round of the inaugural conference tournament in Memphis, the Central Florida Knights helped continue an historic season in futility for the Temple Owls, edging them 94-90 in double overtime.
The Owls’ have made trips to the NCAA tourney the past six seasons. That run will come to an abrupt halt, as they finished the season a disappointing 9-21 overall and 4-14 in the league, concluding the worst season in the 117-year history of the program.
The bottom four teams in the league began the tournament Wednesday, and the winners will join the rest of the league today in the quarterfinals. Rutgers won the opening first round game 72-68 over South Florida and takes on the No. 2 seed, defending national champion Louisville. The Knights advance to play top-seeded Cincinnati, who’s 26 wins are more than the combined total of Temple and and Central Florida (22).
Isaiah Sykes continues to be the key cog in the Knights’ offense, as he poured in a career-high 36 points and pulled down nine rebounds. In a conference stacked with highly-acclaimed guards, including conference player of the year Shabazz Napier (UConn), Russ Smith (Louisville) and Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), all finalists for the Wooden Award, Sykes managed to have all eyes on him Wednesday night and is easily one of the most versatile players in the country.
He hit what appeared to be the game-winning basket, as he nailed a pull-up near the free throw line that would have given them a 78-76 victory. However, the officials look at the replay and determined he released the ball a fraction of a section short, giving the Owls new life.
Temple continued to fight hard in the second overtime session but simply ran out of gas. With 4.2 seconds remaining, they made their first substitution since the 11:16 mark of the second half, which came out of necessity because Will Cummings (25 points, nine assists, four steals) fouled out. Sophomore Quenton DeCosey scored a team-high 28 points.