JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Temple coach Fran Dunphy would rather be cheering for Cornell than trying to find a way to send the Ivy League champion home.
Dunphy’s disdain for his first-round matchup in the NCAA tournament has less to do with the opponent than the fact he’s facing close friend Steve Donahue.
Dunphy-led teams have lost 10 straight NCAA games and are 1-11 overall. Cornell is 0-5 with quick exits the past two seasons under Donahue, who spent 10 years under Dunphy as an assistant at Penn.
One of those streaks will come to an end Friday, however Dunphy has no interest in feeding a tasty story line.
“There’s so many emotions that go on in this tournament and I’d rather not have the extra layer of emotions competing against a guy that you were hoping to root for as he played his first-round game,” Dunphy said Thursday.
“It’s not an easy thing, to be honest with you. I love Steve Donahue. He’s a terrific, terrific basketball coach. He meant a lot to me as a guy that I coached with, and as I said many, many times, I learned a lot of basketball from him as we went about our 10 years together.”
The feeling is mutual.
Still, Donahue relishes the opportunity that Cornell (27-4), the No. 12 seed in the East Regional, has against fifth-seeded Temple (29-5) and played down the significance of his familiarity with his former boss.
“I probably know his team better than he really knows mine, just because Temple is on TV more often,” Donahue said, adding that early this season he even sought out tapes of Owls games because he was impressed with forward Lavoy Allen’s defensive abilities and wanted to share what he liked with his players.
But what the Cornell coach, whose team lost to Stanford and Missouri in the opening round of the past two NCAA tournaments, feels may have the Ivy League champions more suited for Friday’s challenge is that they’ve played more games against teams comparable to Temple than in the past.
In addition to narrowly losing at top-ranked Kansas, Cornell’s non-conference schedule includes wins over Alabama and St. John’s and losses to Syracuse and Seton Hall.
“I think that’s more beneficial to us than me knowing Fran and what he’s trying to accomplish,” Donahue said.
One of the keys to the 12:40 p.m. EDT matchup at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena will be how well Cornell shoots the 3-pointer and how well Temple defends the arc while also preventing 7-footer Jeff Foote from dominating inside.
The Big Red leads the nation in 3-point accuracy (.434 percent) and senior Ryan Wittman has made an Ivy League-record 368 of them during his career. The Owls are third in the nation in 3-point defense (.281 percent) and scoring (56.1) defense.
Temple’s Ryan Brooks said what makes Cornell especially difficult to defend is that in addition Wittman, son of former NBA player and coach Randy Wittman, the Big Red have three other good 3-point shooters.
Meanwhile, Foote averages 12.3 points inside and is adept at finding open 3-pointer shooters when opponents double-team him.
“They’re a team that capitalizes on mistakes. If we get caught falling asleep, then it definitely can burn us,” Brooks said.
“We’re going to have to just stick to our defensive principles we focused on all year. … We’re a very confident team coming into this game, and if we just stick to our principles, then we feel pretty good.”
Dunphy, who won 10 Ivy League titles at Penn before taking over at Temple in 2006, hasn’t won in the NCAA tournament since Penn beat Nebraska in the opening round 16 years ago. His first two trips with Temple ended with first-round losses to Michigan State and Arizona State in 2008 and 2009.
He notes this is the first time he’s entering a game with the higher seeded team. Defenders of his track record—most of which was compiled at Penn—point out that no Ivy League team has won an NCAA tournament game since 1998, when fifth-seeded Princeton defeated No. 12 seed UNLV.
“It’s just the competition is unbelievable, how good these teams are. Even for us now, we have a tough game coming up here,” Dunphy said. “We’re going to have to play our very best basketball, and I’m hoping that we can come out on top.”
Temple hasn’t advanced beyond the first round since 2001, when the Owls made it to the Elite Eight. There’s motivation for this team’s seniors after quick exits the past two years, however there’s the same sense of urgency for Cornell.
“We still have a ton to prove. We’ve been to the tournament twice haven’t won a game yet. That keeps us motivated,” the Big Red’s Jon Jaques said. “We know we’re a talented team. But at the same time, we still have a lot to prove.”