TUCSON, Ariz. -- This was for the presidents and athletic directors who even think about firing guys like Fran Dunphy.
Sometimes it's shameful that the game is defined by success in the NCAA tournament. It's equally shameful if you think the NCAA tournament has defined Dunphy. Before his point guard Juan Fernandez rose up against Penn State with a couple of clicks left on the clock Thursday, Temple's coach had been spectacularly bad in the tournament. His personal 11-game losing streak was longest by any coach in the tournament's history. One stat service sat down and figured it out. Dunphy's .077 winning percentage (1-12) in the bracket was the worst all-time for a coach who has been in at least eight games.
"I probably think about it less than others do," Dunphy said. "But you think about it. I would be lying if I told you I didn't."
This was also for Pepe Sanchez. The former Temple great is now in his mid-30s, an owner, president and point guard for a pro team in Argentina. At Temple he is known as one of the school's all-time greats. Sanchez was such a skilled defender that he made third-team All-American one year while averaging less than six points. Thursday wouldn't have been possible if Sanchez didn't advise his countryman to come to Temple.
Fernandez, now a junior, had options -- those that would pay him six figures playing in Europe. Assistant Matt Langel went to Argentina three times trying to sway the 6-foot-4 guard.
"There's nowhere else in the world you can go and be with a group of guys ... and experience college with us Americans," Langel told Fernandez.
Still, it wasn't done. Sanchez, with his e-mails and advice, clinched the deal.
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"Pepe was one of the main reasons I came here," Fernandez said.
This was for us nutjobs that live for this. When Fernandez's leaner from 17 feet went in with four-tenths of a second left to beat Penn State 66-64, that made it essentially three buzzer beaters in Thursday's early games. (Thanks also go to Morehead State and Butler.) Temple got its first tournament win since 2001. For Dunphy it was 17 years between tournament wins. The first one was back when AOL dial-up was all the rage -- against Nebraska in 1994.
In this eye-blink digital world, career tournament win No. 2 came at the same time as career win No. 420.
"It might have been our time, that's all," Dunphy said, "our time."
The 62-year-old Dunphy won 310 games and 10 Ivy League titles at Penn over 17 seasons. In his fifth season at Temple, this was the Owls' fourth-straight NCAA appearance under their beloved coach. That Nebraska win was followed by a loss to Final Four-bound Florida. In 1995, Penn lost in overtime to Antonio McDyess' Alabama team. There has never been a second weekend for a guy who loves strong man-to-man defense and a sharing of the ball. Six Owls average in double figures. Now their coach will be trying to get out of the opening weekend for the first time.
"If you call Coach K he is going to tell you he is one of the best coaches in the country," Langel said. "Whoever you talk to, Jim Boeheim, Jay Wright, they're going to tell you he's so underappreciated. I think Coach would tell you if that's [losing streak] the worst thing that happens in his life, he's lived a pretty darn good life."
The result was definitely not for Talor Battle and Penn State. The program's all-time leading scorer nailed a wide-open 3-pointer from at least 23 feet with 14.2 seconds left that tied the game 64-64.
"First thing I said was, 'Let's not get too excited,' Battle said after playing his last college game, "We got to get the stop."
After scoring 17 points in the first half, Fernandez had been slowed in the second. The decision was made, though, to make the Owls' fourth-leading scorer the first option out of a timeout with 11.4 seconds left. Fernandez was supposed to either drive to the basket or dish. Penn State guard Tim Frazier seemed to leap up for a block a split second too early, allowing Fernandez to lean in for the shot. That's when the label that has floated around the program fit once again. Fernandez -- or "Pepe Sanchez With A Jump Shot" -- calmly dropped in the winner.
At that point, this was also for Gustavo Fernandez. Juan's 17-year-old brother was just one year old when a freak accident caused little Gustavo to be paralyzed below the waist. Today, he is one of the top wheelchair tennis players in the world.
"The doctor said it was one case in a million," Fernandez said. "It happened when he was so young, my family kind of got used to it. He says he feels great now."
It would have been an insult to Gustavo, then, for Juan to give in to a sprained left knee that has bothered him for about a month.
"He's international in that he's going to act it out and make it look a lot worse than it is sometimes," Langel kidded. "All these guys want to play this time of year."
The teams knew each other well, and probably could diagram each other's plays. The meeting was the third between Temple and Penn State since 2008, not counting an October scrimmage during which the Owls "out-toughed us" according to Battle. The grinding pace claimed Penn State's No. 2 scorer Jeff Brooks who left the game two minutes into the second half, emerging from the locker room with his right arm in a sling. Scootie Randall, Temple's third-leading scorer, gave it a go after missing the last seven games because of a broken foot. He lasted six minutes and wasn't a factor.
The ultimate survivor was the quiet guy with the bushy mustache and a slight smile.
"As I said before, it just wasn't our time," Dunphy said. "Today, it was."