PHILADELPHIA - There is no greater pressure in the world of sports than the pressure of chasing after perfection.
When the 2012-2013 Temple Owls took to the court in this afternoon's matchup against the Wagner Seahawks, they put their perfect 4-0 record on the line.
The stakes were high.
A win would give the Owls their first 5-0 season since Hall of Famer and former head coach John Chaney's 1987-88 squad -- a team that sat atop the national rankings and advanced to the NCAA's Elite Eight in that season's big dance.
The gravity of the historical significance of a 5-0 start weighed heavy on the Owls, who came out of the opening tip trailing by eight points.
Their early struggle forced some shuffling of the rotation by head coach Fran Dunphy who began to dig into his depth off the bench with graduates T.J. DiLeo and Jake O'Brien getting meaningful minutes early. Junior transfer Dalton Pepper also factored into the backcourt rotation, alongside freshman Quenton DeCosey.
At that point, the offensive blueprint of the game began to transform.
By utilizing a steady rotation of different matchups, the Temple squad went on a 10-0 run midway through the opening half to give them their first lead of the game at the 8-minute mark.
“We're starting to get more confident with more guys,” Dunphy said. “Our depth is good, and we have some guys who haven't quite gotten their opportunity yet. I will feel confident when that happens for them too.”
One of the guys with an opportunity in this afternoon's matchup was DeCosey, who played well under a different type of pressure: the pressure of inexperience.
The true freshman saw 10 minutes and managed to drain two threes for the Owls.
“Quenton is really talented and he's confident,” Khalif Wyatt said.
Wyatt, a veteran guard who saw limited minutes in his own freshman campaign, expanded on the importance of DeCosey impressing during his window of opportunity.
“With Coach Dunphy, when you get your chance, you have to show him that you deserve it, especially this early in his career. He's showing Coach Dunphy that he deserves those minutes and he's taking advantage of those opportunities,” Wyatt said.
“Quenton today did a great job in the first half with two threes. I was not afraid to put him back in at crunch time in the second half,” Dunphy explained.
The Owls were never quite able to distance themselves too comfortably from a resilient Wagner squad in the second half, but were saved by shots falling at opportune times.
Wagner was able to sneak within five points, 60-55, with just under two minutes to play, until Wyatt pulled up for a three-point jumper to balloon the Owls' lead back up to eight points.
After the game, Scootie Randall weighed in on the ways in which unselfish team play has carried the Owls through high-pressure situations early this season.
“Sometimes it comes down to making shots. Each and every game we have someone to step up, and I think a lot of teams have that but don't utilize it,” he said. “It's a big key for us. We're going to continue to do that and get better.”
But can you get better than a perfect 5-0 record?
Dunphy sure thinks so.
“Am I happy sitting here after a win?”
“Yeah. But we have to do better and we've got a long way to go. It's a long, long season and we need to improve in a lot of areas,” he said.
Taking better shots, limiting offensive rebounds, committing less turnovers -- these were a few of the improvements Dunphy rattled off.
One improvement noticeably devoid from the list was preparation, and understandably so. For Dunphy and his Owls, preparation is the crux of any successful moment, of a game, of a campaign and, ultimately, of a career.
“The only thing we can do as a team is prepare. The only thing that our coaches can do with us is show us film and talk about what's going to happen,” Randall said.
“But we as players have to find a way to get it done. Whatever you do to prepare for a team doesn't really matter. With every program -- even the best programs -- whatever you do doesn't matter,” he continued.
“When the lights come on and it's time for tipoff, it's how you play -- how you perform.”
When the flood lights illuminated the Liacouras Center after the Owls notched a 70-62 win over Wagner -- their fifth of the season -- it was hard to ignore the 1987-1988 banner stoically fluttering above the heads of the team as they circulated through the lower bowl of the stands collecting victory high-fives.
After all, history doesn't often repeat itself.
By Kami Mattioli, Owlsports.com columnist