DAYTON, Ohio. — Ninety seconds may not seem like a very long period of time.
It’s hardly enough time to send a Tweet or answer an email from your coworker.
You’ll spend more than 90 seconds sitting at a stoplight.
But in basketball those very same 90 seconds are a lifetime. They can — and often do — determine the outcome of a game.
They’re the breath of life or the kiss of death, depending on which of the fates is on your side.
When you’re watching from afar, they’re the seconds when you wring your hands, chew your nails to the cuticle, scream at your TV — whatever coping method it takes to carry you through those precious final fractions of time.
When you’re a part of it, they’re the moments you dream of. Those 90 seconds are what make champions of men who can cash in on the spoils of success, who are fortunate enough to fall on the desirable side of circumstance.
But time is a cruel mistress. She often leaves you wanting, needing more.
And that’s precisely what she did on Sunday afternoon as the Temple University men’s basketball team attempted to topple the No. 1-seeded Indiana Hoosiers at the University of Dayton arena.
They looked like the giants.
They had the right tempo, the right passing lanes, the right possessions. They had the ball in the hands of the right man in all the right moments.
For the majority of the game, the Temple Owls did all the right things.
Anthony Lee, the sophomore, forcefully swatted a lay-up attempt by Cody Zeller, the first team All American candidate, with a primal roar.
Khalif Wyatt lit up for a game-high 31 points, exploding on the national stage in such incredible fashion that he became No. 1 on Twitter’s list of trending topics worldwide.
Jake O’Brien, tasked with locking down The Sporting News’ Player of the Year, Victor Oladipo, held him to just 16 points in 32 minutes.
The Owls sent a stunned Hoosiers squad into the locker room at halftime with a rude awakening and a 29-26 deficit.
The world was on notice.
Phones across the nation vibrated, rattling on the desks of students, alumni, businessmen discreetly tuned into the game. There was nervous rustling in the stands, full to the rafters of anxious Indiana fans with their hands fidgeting in the pockets of their trademark candy cane striped pants.
Could another No. 1 seed fall?
It seemed more and more likely as the minutes on the game clock began to fade away.
Ten to play. Seven to go. Five left. Three remaining.
Temple was up by two with 2:55 on the clock when Zeller knotted the game at 52 with 1:51 to play.
In the moment, it seemed that 1:51 was an infinite amount of time. It could have been three years.
Plenty of time for Temple to set up a string of possessions to give them a cushion. To propel them into the Sweet 16.
But those final 90 seconds, when you’re on the wrong side of them…
There’s only silence.
That’s all there was when Oladipo pulled up for a three-point jumper to ice the game with 15 seconds remaining. He put his fists down at his sides and howled, the sound drowning in a thundering sea of Indiana crimson.
In the middle of an arena exploding in celebratory cheering, the Owls heard only crushing silence.
They gathered one last time at the final buzzer, a cluster of slumping shoulders and heavy hearts and embraced each other, but it wasn’t consolation.
In the locker room, they hunched over, their heads in towels to conceal tears, stunned.
The tears that fell weren’t of embarrassment or shame; rather, full of the dangerous dismay that comes hand-in-hand with hindsight. Haunted by thoughts that they could have done more, or been more, or shot better, or pulled down one more rebound. That maybe just one of those things could have changed the outcome.
It tortured Scootie Randall, who was visibly shaken as he sat on the dais during the postgame press conference.
A reporter asked him if he felt better about this season because Temple had advanced further than last season.
He stared the reporter down, his glassy eyes struggling to quell the tears as he willed himself to speak.
“No, it’s a bad taste. We didn’t get the job done,” he mumbled, before choking up and hanging his head.
A father comforting his son, Fran Dunphy reached over and put his hand on Randall’s shoulder as he had done many times before.
This time was different.
There was an air of finality that settled across the room, filling in the gaps left behind by yesterday’s enthusiasm.
It was really the end of the line for a team that had fought and scrapped and clawed its way through a series of tests they were never supposed to pass.
The rest of the evening passed in increments of time greater than 90 seconds, but the end was all anyone could think about.
On the bus, on the plane, on the ride home. It was the bitter end.
And in the end, there is only silence.