After Temple's loss at Rutgers last Wednesday, head coach Fran Dunphy said his team was going to need a little bit of smoke and a few mirrors to overcome its injury issues in such a tough conference.
Make that a lot of smoke and a home court located inside a funhouse.
Temple not only lost its third game in a row, 82-75 to USF at the Liacouras Center (see Instant Replay), but it also lost its third player to injury in the last two weeks. Dunphy's team played the final 23 minutes Thursday night with only seven available players.
Junior guard and Owls leading scorer Will Cummings hit the deck after a collision with USF's Chris Perry just 40 seconds into the game. Cummings took his time getting up and the referees checked the monitor before deciding not to call anything other than a personal on Perry, who was setting a pick.
Cummings stayed on the floor, but with 3:40 to go before halftime he exited and did not return. Prior to the start of the second half, Temple announced Cummings has concussion-like symptoms.
"It's concussion-like symptoms, so we'll have to see tomorrow," Dunphy said about a potential timetable for Cummings. "The way those things happen these days, there's going to have to be a lot of baseline testing. And if he can perform on Saturday, we'll see."
Yeah, Saturday. That could be an issue.
The Owls are set to host No. 24 Memphis Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. Memphis, in case you missed it, beat No. 12 Louisville at Louisville, as Temple was losing at home to USF.
The Owls are now at 5-8 overall and 0-3 in the American -- and they barely have a rotation.
Dunphy's smoke and mirrors comments were made after the Owls played their first game without sophomore forward Dan Dingle, who tore his meniscus in practice Dec. 29 and had arthroscopic surgery Monday. Three days after the Rutgers loss, freshman forward Mark Williams sprained his left ankle in a loss at UCF on Saturday. Dingle was in a shirt and tie and on crutches Wednesday night, and although Williams dressed for the game, he did not play.
"I said to him in the middle of the second half, 'If I need you, can you go?" Dunphy said. "He said, 'Yeah, I can. I don't know how much I can give you, but I'll give you whatever I have. If things had been a little more dire. I would have asked him to go in the game."
At this point, things are pretty dire. Temple, which started the year with only 10 players -- nine on scholarship -- had only two available subs on the bench once Cummings went down.
Walk-on Nick Pendergast played only three minutes, but redshirt junior forward Jimmy McDonnell ended up playing a career-high 31.
"It hurts us, obviously," Dunphy said, referring to Cummings' absence. "He's a good basketball player, and we need his speed and quickness and leadership. But, he got hurt. There's nothing you can do about it.
"Josh Brown, we needed him in there just about the whole second half. We kind of tried to buy some time with Nick and Devontae [Watson] and Josh and Jimmy. But we need to have as many healthy [as we can], and we're struggling with that."
To best put McDonnell's effort into perspective, coming into Thursday night -- in two and a half seasons -- McDonnell had only scored nine points. He had 10 against USF. In one night, McDonnell surpassed his entire college output.
A man of few words, he was asked how it felt to finally get some extended minutes.
"Um, I guess it was pretty cool," McDonnell said. "But it didn't end in a win so … not really that good."
Junior center Anthony Lee, on the other hand, might have answered questions all night. At some point, he stopped needing prompts. He was just rolling.
Lee finished with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double this season, but missed two key free throws with 1:01 to go that would have cut Temple's deficit to one.
A reporter mentioned the obvious difficulty of having to play with so few guys. Lee started with a big sigh.
"It's heartbreaking, a little bit," he said. "We know we don't really have many bodies, so it is a challenge. All of us in our mind know: There's no margin for error. We just have to stay together."
How do they do that?
"Pray," he answered. "We gotta be closer as a team, we've gotta be tighter. There's only so many guys we can go to. It's not like, you know, we lost three players and we just have four more who can step in."
Lee touched on Temple's inexperience, how difficult it is to play defense when you know you cannot afford to foul, how the injured Dingle is like his "little brother," and how Temple's key players -- now down to just Lee, Quenton DeCosey (20 points) and Dalton Pepper (17) -- can't come off the floor. Those three guys sat for a combined five minutes. DeCosey played the whole game.
And despite being so shorthanded, Temple was once again in it down the stretch. The Owls were up 10 with 9:22 to go and couldn't close. A 16-3 Bulls run immediately put USF ahead for good. Thursday night marked the seventh time in Temple's eight losses that the game was decided by seven points or less.
Back to Lee: "I keep saying to my guys, the last minute and 30, I've never been in so many close games in my life. It's been a very weird thing. You'd think you'd win some games and lose some games, but we haven't won a close game since the Penn game [Temple's season opener].
"I think it comes to executing, and the fundamentals, or getting a rebound, knowing when to go the basket because their foul trouble at the end of the game, or making an extra pass.
"It's the little things, and once we get a lock on that, I think we'll see wins."
Without even a breath, Lee immediately looked over McDonnell and asked, "You got anything to say about that?"
McDonnell looked back at him:
With so many guys hurt, it almost is.