What to Know
- Legendary Philly basketball coach Fran Dunphy is set to step down after the Temple Owls lost to the Belmont Bruins 81-70 Tuesday night.
- The loss brought an end to one of the great runs in Philadelphia basketball history.
- Fellow Temple legend Aaron McKie will take over the Owls next season.
Kevin McClain scored 29 points and led the decisive second-half run as Belmont got its first NCAA Tournament win, pulling away to an 81-70 victory Tuesday night and ending Temple coach Fran Dunphy’s career in the First Four.
The 11th-seeded Bruins (27-5) play Maryland on Thursday in the East Region.
Belmont got at-large bid after losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title game. The Bruins showed that the selection committee’s faith was not misplaced, getting the breakthrough win on their eighth try.
The loss sent Temple (23-10) into a transition at the top. Dunphy is retiring after his 13th season at Temple, where he replaced John Chaney. Dunphy previously coached 17 seasons at Penn.
He was hoping to coach another day, but Belmont’s high-scoring offense pulled away at the end. Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 21 points.
The Bruins entered the tournament second in the nation at 87.4 points per game. The Owls’ aim was to slow the high-percentage offense just enough to give themselves a chance. Temple hung in during a first half that featured five lead changes and ended with Belmont ahead 37-31.
The Bruins pushed their lead to 11 points by hitting their first two shots in the second half. Alston, who led the American Athletic Conference at 19.7 points per game, hit three 3-pointers as the Owls surged ahead 50-46. Alston has been the Owls’ catalyst, scoring at least 20 points in each of his last nine games.
McClain led a 16-3 run that put Belmont ahead to stay, and Belmont pushed the lead to 12 while closing it out. McClain finished two points shy of his career high.
The Bruins’ balanced offense had more than enough even though leading scorer Dylan Windler was held to five points on 2-of-7 shooting. Windler came in averaging 21.4 points.
The loss brought an end to one of the great runs in Philadelphia basketball history. Dunphy has used a tireless work ethic to win at both Penn (17 seasons) and later Temple (13 seasons).
"When I wake up at night, I'm looking at film," Dunphy recently told the Associated Press.
Dunphy's arc has touched nearly every Big 5 school in some way, from distinguished tenures on the bench at Penn and at Temple, to scholarly stops at Villanova and La Salle. He'll turn his latest program over next season to former Temple and Philadelphia 76ers star Aaron McKie.
"I would love to represent Temple in any way they see fit," Dunphy said.
He's lasted almost 50 years without a sniff of scandal, and has perhaps more good guy awards (including the 2018 Dean Smith Award for charity and community service) as conference championships.
With his coaching career ending, Dunphy has been loath to boast about his accomplishments, even as this season turned into a farewell tour that earned him standing ovations at hated city rivals Villanova and Saint Joseph's.
He called the celebrations "understandingly uncomfortable" and would "just as soon crawl underneath the bleachers" than have the game pause for his brief wave of acknowledgment to a generous crowd.
Dunphy (580-324 with 17 NCAA Tournament appearances) is not necessarily retiring from coaching, or retiring at all. He will continue to teach his "Management, Theory && Practice: From the Locker Room to the Board Room" class at Temple's business school, and he may expand the course to the spring semester. Some of his contemporaries moved on after leaving their long-time schools (like Princeton's Pete Carril to the NBA or UConn's Jim Calhoun to a Division III program). Dunphy won't rule another coaching gig, though it would take a heck of a job to leave Philadelphia.
"You would be foolish if you said never to anything. Who knows? Right now, it's not a plan that I have," he said.
Dunphy is ingrained in the Philly hoops fabric like few in the city's storied history. He played basketball at Philly high schools and went to games at the Palestra as a kid. He was co-captain under Tom Gola at La Salle, earned a master's degree at Villanova, won 10 Ivy League titles in 17 seasons at Penn and has lived in the same home since 1984.
He's been at home, with or without his bushy mustache, on North Broad since replacing outspoken Hall of Fame coach John Chaney at Temple in 2006.
Dunphy led the Owls to some of their biggest upsets, including wins over No. 3 Villanova in 2009, No. 5 Duke in 2012, No. 3 Syracuse in 2012, No. 10 Kansas in 2014 and No. 8 SMU in 2016.
"It's the faces you remember," more than the scores, Dunphy said.
The lone blemish on Dunphy's career is his lack of success in the NCAA Tournament. The Owls have won only two games under Dunphy while the Quakers, out of the Ivy League, had one in his 10 trips.
"Would have loved more success in the postseason, no question," Dunphy said.
Dunphy still had two years left on his contract when word spread at last year's Final Four of Temple's transition plan. It was before he told his family or his team. The headlines that hit Philly ("Replacing Fran Dunphy another wrong decision by Temple") fueled speculation he was pushed out.
"I think the timing of this has been great, to be honest with you," Dunphy said. "We sat down, we had great talks about how we're going to do this thing. I'm very much at peace with how this whole thing has been handled. I'm grateful to Temple and I'm happy for Aaron McKie and the new chapter in his life."
McKie takes over at a program that has had remarkable consistency on the bench. He'll become just the fifth coach at Temple since 1952. The Owls haven't played in a Final Four since 1958 and they haven't reached the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 since 2001.
But the Owls have continued to matter, even in the American Athletic Conference, and won plenty of big games because of the Big 5 lifer on the bench.
"I've been celebrated enough by being given this opportunity to coach college basketball in Philadelphia," Dunphy said. "No one's been more fortunate than me. That's how I feel about my life."