Wyatt, seniors rally Temple past No. 21 VCU on Senior Day

Wyatt, seniors rally Temple past No. 21 VCU on Senior Day

March 10, 2013, 6:15 pm

Khalif Wyatt dropped a game-high 30 points in the Owls' comeback victory. (AP)

BOX SCORE

His team was down 16 points in the first half, VCU was 6 for 6 from three, the full-court press was on, HAVOC had ensued, the Rams were on a 28-7 run and Temple coach Fran Dunphy felt …

Good?

"That stretch in the first half, we were in a timeout -- we got rocked a little bit. We were punched right in the forehead," Dunphy said.

"But we just talked about the fact that they had made their run now, and I feel good about where we are. [I wasn't] all that thrilled we were down 16 points, but I felt like we had a chance to gather ourselves."

Thus making the the new definition of Gather (v.) -- To outscore your opponent by 24 points the rest of the way and totally run away with a basketball game in the second half.

Behind a game-high and characteristically unorthodox 30 points from Khalif Wyatt, Temple rallied from a 16-point, first-half deficit to down No. 21 VCU, 84-76, Sunday at the Liacouras Center (see Instant Replay).

The victory extends Temple's season-long winning streak to seven games and advances it to 23-8 overall and 11-5 in conference. The Owls are now riding their longest unbeaten streak since starting the season 6-0, have claimed their second victory over a Top 25 opponent in five tries and look in solid shape for their sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance.

The win also makes Temple the No. 3 seed in this week's Atlantic 10 tournament, giving the Owls a first-round bye on Thursday and pitting them against the winner of UMass-George Washington on Friday at 9 p.m.

All this for a team that lost to Duquesne (8-22, 1-15) on Feb. 14 and has gone undefeated since.

"[This win] felt great for so many different reasons," said Wyatt, who went 8 for 18 from the field, 1 for 8 from three, 13 for 16 from the foul line and was asked to put Temple's season into context. "We've had an up-and-down year all year. I think, of late, the last six or seven games, we just came together. We've been playing for one another and guys have been making shots and we've been playing defense and we've just been having fun, really.

"It's just great being out there with those guys."

Wyatt was one of five players honored before the game on Sunday. He, T.J. DiLeo, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Jake O'Brien and Scootie Randall all played -- barring an NCAA tournament slight -- their last game at the Liacouras Center, combining to score 71 of Temple's 84 points.

"Their seniors led the way," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "They did what really good seniors do on Senior Day -- they took control of the game. Even when we had a lead, they didn't get rattled."

It would have been easy get that way. That's what the Rams' "HAVOC," full-court press defense is based on -- rattling the opponent. But when they really should have been trailing by much more at the break -- Temple was down 16 points on two separate occasions -- the Owls found themselves behind by just five, 41-36, heading into the locker room.

VCU shot 52.1 percent from the field in the first half and went a perfect 6 for 6 from three but was held scoreless for the final 3:10 of the frame, allowing Temple to close the half on an 11-0 run. That was just the beginning of a comeback that eventually propelled the Owls to a 17-point, second-half lead. From the time they trailed 41-25 with 3:49 to play in the first, Temple won the remainder of the game, 59-35.

Temple and VCU both put together stretches during which they outscored the other by at least 19. VCU went 28-6 in the first half, and Temple 26-7 from the first and into the second.

"Basketball is a game of runs," said Smart, who characterized his team as not having its usual fire and intensity.

So what changed to halt one run and kick start another?

"Well, the main thing is, they only press off of makes. So if you can make them miss, they can't set up their press," Wyatt said. "We tried to get stops, and the more stops we get, the more times we could get the ball over halfcourt without any havoc."

And that's largely how the remainder of the game played out. VCU cooled off considerably in the second half, going 12 for 31 from the field and just 2 for 9 from three. As their shots stopped falling, the Owls began exploiting holes in the Rams' less-vaunted half-court defense and started teeing off from three. Temple made 7 of 13 tries from beyond the arc in the second half and were led at game's end by O'Brien's season-high five threes.

"Most importantly for them, they made a lot of shots, O'Brien made a ton of them, out of transition and out of our press, and that made us pay," Smart said.

"[O'Brien] wasn't so much a defensive mismatch -- it's not that we don't have someone who can guard him -- but he made us pay out [when we were] out of rotation in our press. So he's a mismatch when he gets an open three, definitely. He made five out of eight of them today."

The two biggest came when O'Brien tied the game at 46-46 on a three-pointer 4:06 into the second half and then gave Temple its first lead in nearly 20 minutes, 51-48, on another three from the left wing. The Owls never trailed again and O'Brien finished with 19 points.

"Jake O'Buckets did his thing," Dunphy said.

And now the Owls will try to do their thing this week in Brooklyn in their final Atlantic 10 tournament. Temple's win on Sunday improved its all-time A-10 regular-season record to 376-132, giving the Owls the most wins in league history. The program also owns the most conference tournament titles in history, with nine. Dunphy has won three in his first six years at Temple.

It's arguably the deepest field in league history and a surprise winner would take away one of the four or five at-large bids the conference's top teams are banking on. But even if the Owls were to go one-and-done in Brooklyn, they've now done enough to get into the field of 68 -- right?

"It's not up to us, but I'd like to think so," Wyatt said. "We've still got a lot of basketball and we're going to do to Brooklyn on Friday. We'll take it one game at a time let the committee do its job.

"I heard we played the winner out of George Washington and UMass and both of the teams played us really tight. … All the games should be good. Brooklyn should be a good tournament. Hopefully we just stay together and continue to play good basketball."

Knowing the Owls, they'll probably find a way to make things interesting.

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