EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He was a first-team All-American as a freshman and since has won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and all-conference honors, but some people will swear that Temple guard Mark Macon never has been the same since his last game at Meadowlands Arena three years ago.
A freshman then, Macon averaged more than 20 points and led the top-ranked Owls to the 1988 National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament East Regional final. But, just one step from the Final Four, Macon was hounded into a 6-for-29 shooting game in Temple's 63-53 upset loss to Duke.
Tonight marks Macon's return to Meadowlands as the No. 10 seed Owls (23-9) face No. 3 seed Oklahoma State (24-7) in the East Regional semifinals. (Top seed North Carolina will face No. 12 Eastern Michigan in the early game.) Yesterday, the media made a big deal out of remembering a game that Macon apparently has long forgotten.
"To live in the past is to stand still," Macon, a senior, said. "I had to move on [from the Duke game], and that's what I did."
Macon, 6 feet 5, has averaged 21.6 points in helping Temple to the round of 16 for the first time since that 1987-88 team went 32-2, but the ride he took to get this far has not been smooth.
The streak shooter, who is also a top-notch defender, has been maligned by the Philadelphia media for his low shooting percentages (the worst was 38.9 percent in 1989-90) since that freshman season -- criticism coach John Chaney calls "intellectually dishonest."
"Three years ago, we had a team with great chemistry, and teams we played against had to play us totally honest," Chaney said. "But then we lost three starters and had to make do with a new script, and teams would play a box-and-one and triangle-and-two -- that's what this young man had to face every night.
"And, every time we got in a tight game, I became his worst enemy, because I always called his number. And, for that, we had a lot of guys who constantly berated him. Mark Macon cannot be a great player at this level without other players on the floor that are pretty damn good."
Chaney said he has that now in a team that, after being beaten by Penn State in the Atlantic 10 semifinals, has defeated Purdue and Richmond in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. The 1987-88 team sent Tim Perry and Ramon Rivas into the NBA, but none of the players on that team was highly touted coming out of high school.
"This team, without question, is a more talented team than the one we had when we were here last," Chaney said. "The other team would not have been good enough to play the teams we do today and win. What that team had was great chemistry.
"This team may not go as far, but they're surely more talented."
Four Owls have scoring averages in double figures this season, with forward Mik Kilgore averaging 13.8 and 7-foot center Donald Hodge 11.8. Macon has remained the main scoring threat, but he said the team began to jell when he missed three games because of an ankle injury.
"When Mark got hurt, we just started getting offensive-minded," Kilgore said. "When he came back, we just had to get our chemistry going with him in there."
The scoring balance has eliminated the pressure that Macon has felt since his freshman year. He said he's happy the team has advanced this far, but would like nothing more than to use the floor here as a steppingstone to the Final Four.
"We have business to take care of, and the business is to play hard and win," Macon said. "As far as what outside people said about me before, I had no comment. I only take heed to what my coaches and teammates said. And they respected my ability."