Buzzer-beating birds: Temple's amazing streak of 1-point games

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer
Temple's recent run is borderline odds-defying and unprecedented in recent history. (Getty Images)

It began inconspicuously yet dramatically amid the backdrop of one of the best intra-city rivalries this sport has to offer.

Saint Joseph's Halil Kanacevic sank two free throws with 16 seconds to go, putting the Hawks up by four against hated Temple at Hagan Arena on Hawk Hill. Winning was against the Owls' odds, and they indeed went on to lose. But it's the way that game played out that makes the origins of this story so noteworthy. Temple star Khalif Wyatt sank a 3 with 10.4 seconds to go to cut it to a one-point affair. One point. So big and so small at once.

Then Saint Joe's Carl Jones missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Temple got the board, only to then have Wyatt's shot blocked by Kanacevic with .7 left. After back-to-back timeouts, finally, Wyatt fired off a 3 that didn't go in. So many missed shots and chance-of-the-bounce outcomes brought it to this. On Feb. 2, it ended: Saint Joseph's 70, Temple 69.

And thus began perhaps the most unlikely of streaks college basketball has seen over the past two decades. Temple's subsequent four games have all ended with a one-point differential. This current five-game run of one-point decisions is the longest such streak dating to the 1996-97 season. Since Saint Joe's, here's what has had to happen in order to continue the by-one run.

-- An 89-88 win over Charlotte on Feb. 6 after the 49ers' Pierria Henry sank a what-the-hell-why-not 3 as time expired to cut it from a four-point difference.

-- A 72-71 win at Dayton on Feb. 9 that included four timeouts, four turnovers and three fouls in the final minute of play -- and five missed free throws (in five attempts) in the final seven seconds.

-- A mindboggling 84-83 loss on Valentine's Day to one-win-in-the-A-10 Duquesne that was decided after Pepper fouled Duquesne's Derrick Colter with two seconds to go. Colter sank both, and Pepper's 3-point heave as time expired fell wrong.

-- An 83-82 win at UMass on Feb. 16, last Saturday, that had no scoring for the final 68 seconds. The game ended on a jump ball that was called as time expired. The final minute of play featured two turnovers and two missed shots.

"It's simply a matter of circumstances that have happened to us," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said by phone on Wednesday. "I appreciate that people want to talk about it. But as a coach, you have these kind of close games a lot."

But how frequent? What are the odds that a buzzer-beater doesn't fall against Saint Joe's; that a 3 falls harmlessly against Charlotte; that Temple and Dayton arguably play the most nonsensical ending to a game that we'll see all year; that Duquesne -- freaking Duquesne -- would win on the road against Temple?

With any statistical anomaly like this, I have to go to my guy, Ken Pomeroy, and get the odds on such outliers. Here's what he said:

-- Last season, there were 164 games that finished with a one-point margin.

-- The total games played in 2011-12: 3,303. That comes out to 4.97 percent of games played that were decided by a point. So, call it five percent. One in 20 basketball games ended close as can be. (More than I'd have guessed.)

-- That means the chances of having five straight one-point games factors out to 1-in-3,313,779: .000000302 percent!

"Of course, the games Temple played would probably be expected to be close, so the true odds were surely better than that. But you get the idea," Pomeroy said.

OK, so we'll call it .001 chance. Still gobsmacking. And it gets even better. Pomeroy notes that the odds are actually bigger than they'd normally be because he pooled out the available games to all played after Jan. 1 in the interest of shoring up the tilts against really bad teams. This is well beyond winning-the-lottery territory. Hilariously, Pomeroy's system predicts the next to Owls games as:

Loss to La Salle, 72-71.
Loss to Charlotte, 70-69.

Yeah, right.

Have any teams come close to this? Yes, in fact. Two. Temple broke the barrier by getting to five, but twice since '96 has a team gone four straight games with the slimmest of margins in the outcome. And 2006 Oklahoma (Kevin Bookout era!) impressively walked away winners each time.

  • 2002 Northeastern: Jan. 26-Feb. 5
    • L at Albany, 51-50
    • W vs. Hartford, 67-66
    • L vs. Maine, 74-73
    • L vs. New Hampshire, 82-81
  • 2006 Oklahoma: Feb. 18-27
    • W vs. Iowa, 83-82
    • W at Texas Tech, 71-70
    • W vs. Kansas State, 71-70
    • W vs. Oklahoma State, 67-66

Oklahoma ended its streak with a 24-point loss at Texas to close out the regular season. The Longhorns were a No. 2 seed that season. Northeastern was the opposite: it beat Albany again, the next time a 20-point pounding.

With Temple's mind-bending run, the only result that makes logical sense: Temple and UMass playing their last regular-season Atlantic 10 game ever. That's one of the best rivalries in college hoops the past two decades, and it's bittersweet and appropriate that an awkward jump-ball call as time ran out was the way it ended -- neither team could let go before the clocked mandated the series come to an end.

"We've been in every game, although there are games where you could say we didn't put enough space between," Dunphy said. "As a coach, if you've been in it long enough, you have different personalities that go along with each team. We haven't been able to get any great separation and, yet, there's another side to these guys that there hasn't been any quit. I'm equal parts frustrated and proud [of the streak]."

Dunphy added the best game of the five was the UMass one. The team earned a "plus 12" in film session. (Simple formula: positive plays get a plus one; negative are deducted one.) Temple's next game will provide more drama well before the teams get down to the final minutes. On Thursday, the Owls will host La Salle, an upstart club this season that has a two-game lead on Dunphy's team in the A-10. Can we go for six straight? A one-point outcome has never seemed so impossible.

For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.

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