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

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

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.

Josh Hart's 37 points leads No. 1 Villanova to win over No. 23 Notre Dame

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The Associated Press

Josh Hart's 37 points leads No. 1 Villanova to win over No. 23 Notre Dame

NEWARK, N.J. — Josh Hart wasn’t keeping track of how many points he was accumulating on Saturday against No. 23 Notre Dame.  

All that was on the mind of the senior standout guard was doing anything he could to help protect No. 1 Villanova’s unscathed record with a win over the Fighting Irish.

And, just as he has time and time again, Hart delivered for the Wildcats.

Hart poured in a career high 37 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and dished out four assists to lead Villanova to a late 74-66 win over the Fighting Irish in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center (see Instant Replay).

Even more impressive than his career-high final scoring line was how efficient he was in getting there. Hart made all but five shots on the afternoon, going 10 of 14 from the field, three of four from beyond the arc and a perfect 14 of 14 from the charity stripe.

“I honestly didn’t know how many points I had,” Hart said. “I was just trying to make the right play.

“You have to take what the defense gives you. If all you want to do is get points and the defense takes that away then you’re frustrated and you’re not at your best. … I really attribute that to my teammates and my coaches for really helping me develop my decision making, definitely this offseason, and reading the defense and taking what I can get.”

Notre Dame gave Villanova all it could handle in the first half, building its advantage over the Wildcats to as many as 11 at 35-24 with under four minutes remaining. 

With all of the momentum in favor of the Fighting Irish and the potential of an upset growing, Josh Hart began to take over.

Hart would score 10 of Villanova’s final 12 points in the first half, as the Wildcats kept Notre Dame in striking distance and trimmed their deficit down to five entering the break. 

And after posting 19 of his team’s 36 points in the first half, Hart was nowhere near finished on the afternoon. 

With Villanova still lingering on the short side of a 50-42 game seven minutes into the latter half, Hart scored 16 of the Wildcats’ next 21 points. Hart’s final two points of that stretch, a pair of free throws with six-plus minutes remaining, would give Villanova a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.

“His game is just matured and he makes the right play every time,” Mikal Bridges said of Hart. “If he sees an opening he’s going to go strong and aggressive. But if somebody steps up he’s going to make the right pass.”

It wasn’t just his scoring that propelled the Wildcats to their 10th win of the season, either. Hart finished with a team-high four assists, which was highlighted by a set-up on a Jalen Brunson transition lay-up that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game at the nine minute mark of the second half. The senior guard was also active on the boards, pulling down a team-high 11.

Just two games after posting his first career triple-double, Hart, who entered the game as Villanova’s leader in points, rebounds and assists, flashed his improved all-around game once again against the Fighting Irish.

“He’s as good as any player in the country and he’s so complete,” head coach Jay Wright said. “He will do whatever it takes to win a game and he’s got the ability to do it and at the right time. He got big rebounds at the end of the game. He got offensive rebounds. He scored, passed it, made free throws. He defended [Steve] Vasturia. He did everything. He is as complete a player as we’ve ever had.”

“He’s got great strength,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “Just from watching him last year and now seeing him live in front of me for two hours, there is a great mental and physical toughness and he really drives that group. He’s a great story. Here’s a guy that just got better every year.”

As Josh Hart continued to boost his campaign for National Player of the Year, the Wildcats cemented their No. 1 spot in the national college basketball polls for at least another week with a program-record tying 16th straight win dating back to last season.

Notre Dame showed that No. 1 Villanova isn’t invincible, but that’s something Josh Hart and the Wildcats were already more than aware of.

“Not at all,” Hart said when asked if Villanova feels as if it can’t lose. “We came in and they punched us in the mouth. When you’re down 11, 12 you don’t have the mentality that you can’t lose. So we know we have to keep getting better. We can’t get complacent no matter where we are, no matter what our record is. … If we do that and play a 40-minute Villanova basketball game and a team is able to pull it out at the end, we’ll tip our hats and the next day we’re going to go and get better.”

Penn State falls to Pitt as comeback bid comes up short

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USA Today Images

Penn State falls to Pitt as comeback bid comes up short

NEWARK, N.J. -- Sheldon Jeter can't quite put his finger on why Pitt is giving up second half leads. Fortunately, he and the Panthers can continue to look for answers after a victory.

Michael Young had 29 points and nine rebounds as Pittsburgh held on to defeat Penn State 81-73 on Saturday in the Never Forget Tribute Classic.

To Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, it was d?j? vu.

"That looked like a lot of our games to me so far this year to me," Stallings said. "Really good play on both ends in the first half. Second half, offensive play was probably good enough. Defensive play was not very good."

Jamel Artis had 16 points and eight rebounds, Cameron Johnson scored 10 and Jeter added eight points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots for Pitt.

A 3-pointer by Ryan Luther gave the Panthers (8-2) a 50-26 lead with 16:50 to play but Penn State used an 11-2 run to trim its deficit to 15 about four minutes later. Shep Garner scored four points during a 6-0 spurt that pulled the Nittany Lions within five with 1:50 left but Jeter answered with a 3-pointer and they would get no closer.

"Sheldon is a great team guy.He probably hit the biggest shot of the game. They had the moment and he jumped up and he stuck that three in from the corner there," Stallings said. "Biggest shot of the game probably for us."

Mike Watkins had 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, while Tony Carr and Payton Banks scored 13 points apiece for Penn State (6-5). Garner added 12.

"A tale of two halves," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "Not sure where we were in the first half. Maybe the bus was late. But we showed up in the second half and competed like a Penn State basketball game."

Big Picture 
Penn State: After George Mason snapped Penn State's four-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions have lost two in a row for the second time this season. Penn State had lost to No. 1 Duke and No. 24 Cincinnati

Pitt: Young has led the Panthers in scoring in the past nine games, and came in to the contest ranked 17th in the country in scoring, averaging 22.3 points per game.

Up Next
Penn State: After a week off, the Nittany Lions will remain on the road when they travel to Madison Square Garden to face St. John's next Sunday before closing out their non-conference schedule at home against Morgan State.

Pitt: The Panthers return to the court next Saturday to face Rice at 7 p.m. to begin a five-game home stand.

Hitting from 3
Pitt went 10 of 22 (45.5 percent) from beyond the arc while Penn State hit only 6 of 22 shots from 3-point range

First time in a long series 
Penn State and Pitt met for the 147th time in the 110-year history. However, it is the first time they have played on a neutral site as they played at the Prudential Center in the second game of a double-header in the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic. The Nittany Lions hold a 75-72 advantage in the series despite losing six in a row.