Three years later, Temple's Mark Macon is back where he started. He's back among the college basketball elite, back in the NCAA's "Sweet 16," back at the Meadowlands.
And the 21-year-old senior guard says he won't be haunted by memories of that fateful first visit to Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., a devastating 63-53 loss to Duke in the 1988 East Regional finals.
"I forgot it 15 minutes later," Macon says.
He is certain to be reminded before the Owls tangle with Oklahoma State tomorrow night in the East Regional semifinals. The background:
Temple was 32-1 at the time, and had been ranked No. 1 in the nation for nine weeks. Macon, guarded by Duke's Billy King, hit only six of 29 field goal attempts. It was that shooting performance that spawned persistent criticism the next two seasons when Macon's field goal accuracy slipped to 41 and 39 percent. Even though he is up to 43 percent this season, even though he has averaged 20 points a game for four years, Macon still feels the hot breath of his critics.
His coaches bristle at the criticism that grew out of that loss.
"No one was writing that Howie Evans was 1-for-11 in that game," Temple coach John Chaney said. "Or that [Mike] Vreeswyck was 3-for-17, or that Ramon Rivas could not score a basket. A great deal of weight fell on Macon. Yet, when we play UNLV, they put Stacey Augmon [the Rebels' best defensive player] on Mark."
Said Owls assistant coach Jim Maloney, "The rap on Mark is that he tries to do too much. But we need him to do a lot. He has a right to take shots for us. Every team needs a breakdown man who can beat his man with the dribble. He does that for us."
Macon plays terrific defense, has the quickness to get his own shots and the nerve to keep putting them up even when they aren't falling. Yet, in all probability, he will be judged by how well he shoots against Oklahoma State (24-7) tomorrow night, and whether the Owls (23-9) can advance in the NCAA tournament.
The challenge is significant. In Oklahoma State's 73-64 victory over North Carolina State last weekend, guards Darwyn Alexander and Corey Williams held ACC Player of the Year Rodney Monroe without a field goal for 30 minutes. Monroe hit only four of 16 shots against the Cowboys' grinding man-to-man.
It was coach Eddie Sutton's new defensive system that inspired the Stillwater, Okla., revival of the Cowboys this season.
"It's taken me and the team to another level," said Oklahoma State star Byron Houston. "It took a while for it to hit home, though. We were a little rebellious at first. Over the years a lot of people put defensive pressure on us, and we realized how much we hated it. Now we're doing it to them."
Whether Oklahoma State's guards can harness Macon as well as they handled Monroe is a key to tomorrow's game. But Temple showed last week that it is not just a one-man team. Mik Kilgore, a 6-foot-8 forward, came up big with 25 points in a first-round win over Purdue. In a 77-64 victory over Richmond, the Owls' other front-line players -- 7-0 Donald Hodge and 6-9 Mark Strickland -- dominated inside.
"We know you can't be a good team with just one player carrying the load all the time," Chaney said. "We're constantly working toward balance."