PHILADELPHIA - The star point guard for the opponent was out. The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team was hitting 3-point shots, rebounding the ball and looking not nearly as baffled by Temple's matchup zone as in the past.
It could have been such a great win. And the Minutemen were so close. That's what made losing so frustrating.
"We got the ball where we wanted to get it," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said after Saturday's 65-57 loss at Temple. "I thought we did exactly what we'd wanted to do. We got great looks, and we got the ball inside in the second half."
Asked whether this could have - and perhaps should have - meant victory, Flint didn't quarrel.
"Without question," he said, then repeated those two words three more times for emphasis.
And without question, UMass (8-9, 4-2 Atlantic 10) needs a win tomorrow night at Mullins Center against Fordham (7-9, 1-6), whose six-game losing streak ended with yesterday's 69-61 victory over St. Bonaventure.
Fordham has let opportunities slip away, too. One was Jan. 7 against UMass, when the Rams lost 67-65 as Jason Harris' last-second 3-point shot rimmed out.
This is the first season since joining the Atlantic 10 in 1995 that Fordham has been competitive in league play. The Rams have been able to hang with strong teams like Temple, Rhode Island and Xavier for a half or more, but until yesterday, couldn't finish the job.
They almost beat St. Joseph's, but Harris missed a halfcourt shot at the buzzer and the Hawks won 82-80. But the feeling around the A-10 has been that Fordham will ambush a good opponent soon, and Flint hopes it's not UMass.
Saturday's game against Temple matched the top two teams in the Atlantic 10 in field-goal shooting defense, and the 1-3 teams in scoring defense. Temple ranks first in both categories, but UMass hit 8 of 17 3-pointers.
Unfortunately, the Minutemen were only 14 of 40 from two-point range and saw their three-game winning streak end.
Temple was missing point guard Juan "Pepe" Sanchez, who was sidelined by a bruised right knee. The Owls have also been without reserve guard Lynn Greer, perhaps their most explosive backcourt scorer, since early December after eye surgery.
But starting guards Quincy Wadley (who replaced Sanchez) and Rasheed Brokenborough played the entire game, and even though UMass owned a 43-32 rebounding edge, Temple also won some important inside battles. Forward Lamont Barnes scored 15 points with eight rebounds and three blocks, and Keaton Sanders had six boards in 14 minutes.
Early in the second half, Barnes and Sanders led an effective inside assault against UMass, which received a quiet eight-point, five-rebound game from Lari Ketner. The UMass center had all his points and all except one rebound in the second half, but just when it looked like his offense was coming alive, Temple responded with inside points of its own.
Ketner dominated Fordham with 21 points and 14 rebounds Jan. 7, and with 997 career points, he's on the verge of becoming the 32nd UMass player (and 13th in the 1990s) to reach 1,000. But the senior center, who told a Philadelphia reporter last week that he'd considered quitting early this season, has also seen his scoring average dip to 10.1 points per game.
Since Fordham, he's averaged eight points and 5.2 rebounds in five games, even with 15 points and six rebounds against Kansas.
After tomorrow's game, UMass visits Dayton Thursday and Texas Sunday.