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.

The Basketball Tournament: Pitt-led Untouchables take down Boeheim's Army

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Noah Levick/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

The Basketball Tournament: Pitt-led Untouchables take down Boeheim's Army

As far as The Basketball Tournament was concerned, Thursday night’s game was a matchup between No. 2 seed Boeheim’s Army and No. 3 seed Untouchables. However, in the minds of the players and the rowdy fans at Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Center, it was Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh, another edition of a classic rivalry.

Pitt and Syracuse, as the two normally do, delivered an entertaining game, a 91-84 win by the Untouchables, who were led by a team-high 22 points on 8 of 11 shooting from streaky lefty Jermaine Dixon. Ricky Harris, a former UMass guard and friend of Dixon, added 16 points.

For Syracuse, Friends Central High School alumnus and NBA veteran Hakim Warrick was the star attraction. Warrick posted 14 points and two crowd-pleasing dunks. Syracuse had another player from the Philadelphia area in center Rick Jackson. If the name rings a bell, it may be because of his partnership at both Syracuse and Neumann-Goretti High School with point guard Scoop Jardine. The January 2006 contest between Episcopal Academy, led by future NBA players Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson, and Neumann-Goretti, headed by Jackson and Jardine, is one of the better Philadelphia high school basketball games in recent memory.

Unsurprisingly, the key for the Untouchables was their smooth ball movement and shooting against Boeheim’s Army's vaunted 2-3 zone. The Untouchables held a substantial edge from three-point territory, making 13 of 31 attempts, compared to 6 of 19 for the 'Cuse contingent. After nailing one of his four three-balls to give the Untouchables a 40-28 lead, Dixon leaned over to the Boeheim’s Army bench and exchanged a few words.

James Southerland, a “ringer” for Syracuse brought in for this game, said, “There were some words here and there. But it’s a rivalry, so that’s how it’s going to be.”

Dixon said the level of intensity is “pretty much the same [as playing in the Big East]. We knew when we were playing them what kind of matchup it was going to be — physical. We knew they were going to sit in the zone, we knew what we were going to do. But ultimately, we were ready to win.”

The addition of Southerland and Donte Greene as ringers appeared to put a greater burden on coach Ryan Blackwell, who had to allocate minutes to 11 players. Pitt suited up only eight.

“We just struggled to find the best five-guy rotation throughout the game,” Boeheim’s Army guard Brandon Triche said.

The Untouchables had none of the same issues gelling as a unit. Dixon and coach Brandon Driver studied film and organized a pregame walkthrough to refresh their memories about how to attack the Boeheim’s Army zone. Even the players who didn’t share the court during college looked like they played together before.

“Team chemistry was big,” Harris said. “You add a big-name guy to your team, nine times out of 10, that’ll hurt you because they want to go out and show how good they are instead of playing the right way.”

Along with the desire to beat their rivals, personal pride was a major motivator for the The Untouchables.

“We’re competitive guys, we’ve always been underdogs our whole lives, and we want to show people that we can still play basketball five, six years out of college,” Harris said, “and I think we’re starting to bring our names back to light and proving ourselves again.”

LeVance Fields, the 5-foot-10 point guard of the 2009 Pitt team that lost to Villanova on Scottie Reynolds’ game-winner in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, continues to lead his squad. He yelled out instructions from the bench and called his teammates into a huddle when they started to show some nerves from the free throw line in the final minute.

Antonio Graves, who made four three-pointers and scored 12 points in only 19 minutes, said, “Getting to practice and compete against guys like LeVance every day, it made playing teams like Villanova, Syracuse and Connecticut so much easier because we knew we had competed so hard in practice.”

That competitive spirit and strong work ethic clearly led The Untouchables to be confident in their ability to beat any team in this tournament … especially Boeheim’s Army.

“Many of us haven’t lost to Syracuse,” Fields said. “Unfortunately, me and ‘Ton (Graves) lost to Syracuse when (Gerry) McNamara had that unbelievable run at [Madison Square] Garden, so we just wanted to keep our good streak going against them. Even though it’s years later, no disrespect, we feel like we own Syracuse. We always play pretty well against their zone, and we felt like we were going to do that tonight.”

Pitt players have proven time and again that they will beat you if you underestimate them. They have a difficult quarterfinal game against No. 1 seed City of Gods Saturday at noon on ESPN2. But as long as they’re playing with other guys whose toughness and dedication they trust, they’ll enjoy themselves and feel pretty good about their chances.

“We always talk about Pitt guys play together,” Dixon said. “We missed that. It’s always fun playing with Pitt guys, so that was the No. 1 thing — we wanted to play together.”

The Basketball Tournament: Philly-heavy Family Over Everything eliminated

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Noah Levick/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

The Basketball Tournament: Philly-heavy Family Over Everything eliminated

It’s not often that nostalgia blends with shoving, trash talk and desperate dives on the floor. At The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team competition with a $2 million prize for the winners, all those elements are in play.
 
Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Athletic Center hosted the Super 16 Thursday night, including the first contest of the evening between No. 1 seed City of Gods (COG) and No. 5 seed Family Over Everything (FOE), which ended in a 99-83 win for COG.
 
Many of the teams in the tournament are comprised of alumni from one school or players from a certain region. For FOE, there was a distinct Philly flavor; Scott Rodgers (Drexel ’09), Dionte Christmas (Temple ’09) and Maalik Wayns (Villanova ‘12) all played for Philadelphia schools. Co-coaches Marcus and Markieff Morris, members of the Pistons and Wizards respectively, grew up in Philadelphia and attended Prep Charter. Two of their teammates at Kansas were also on the squad, Tyshaun Taylor and Thomas Robinson (serving as an assistant coach).
 
City of Gods had a much more diverse mix of players, including 2005 Drexel graduate Phil Goss. The roster included Xavier Silas, who played in two games for the Sixers during the 2011-12 season, DerMarr Johnson, the sixth overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and Michael Sweetney, the ninth pick in the 2003 draft.
 
The first of two 18-minute halves started at a high tempo, even though the tournament uses a 30-second shot clock. While Wayns, Taylor and Rodgers had some early success driving to the hole, COG stifled FOE’s offensive rhythm by switching to a trapping zone defense midway through the half. As FOE began to settle for threes, missing most of those attempts, COG got hot from long range. For the game, COG shot 14 of 27 from behind the arc, and FOE shot 9 of 27.
 
By the end of the half, COG had a 51-40 lead. Despite the occasional sensational floater by Wayns, who scored a team-high 22 points, or 25-foot rainbow jumper by Christmas, COG’s solid fundamentals, disciplined defense and balanced scoring neutralized FOE. Six players scored in double figures for COG, including Goss with 15 points on 4 for 5 shooting from the field. Silas’ 19 points (6 of 8 FG, 3 of 4 from three-point range) led the team.
 
“The one thing all these guys do is sacrifice their personal game — you look at Phil Goss, he’s so consistent … maybe not flashy, maybe not something where the crowd will jump out and go crazy, but consistent,” said COG coach Joe Connelly III, a former player development coach in the NBA and the older brother of Denver Nuggets GM Tim Connelly.
 
The Morris twins took their coaching duties very seriously on the other sideline, drawing up plays, calling out-of-bounds sets and constantly lobbying for foul calls to the referees. It was indeed a very physical game, as the teams combined to shoot 68 free throws. If the referees had decided to be more stringent about calling fouls for contact off the ball and during the elbow-heavy exchange for every rebound, there could have been even more.
 
When the lead stretched to 58-42 midway through the second half, FOE began to play with a stretch of desperation. For a spurt, that was effective, as a hoop by Sean Evans capped a 15-6 run. But with their thin eight-man rotation, FOE wasn't able to sustain that energy. COG continued to spread the ball around and force turnovers as the pro-Philly crowd voiced its frustrations with the referees and the fact that FOE’s tournament run was about to end.
 
“The first round, FOE had a big following and we knew that was going to be in their favor, but we still believed that we were the better team,” Silas said. “This is what we do. Every game overseas, every game in the NBA, there’s going to be thousands of people yelling at you, so that wasn’t a problem. That wasn’t even a factor.”
 
“The fans can’t play. They can do all the chanting they want to, but they can’t step on the floor and check up,” Goss said.
 
If FOE’s tournament hopes weren’t already dead, Goss nailed the dagger three with 3:03 remaining to make it 89-73.
 
It’s not hard to see why COG is a No. 1 seed. It's a determined, talented squad. In last year’s tournament, the team lost in the semifinals.
 
“We were pissed off that we lost, and we still feel how we felt after that game,” Silas said. “So we got some unfinished business.”
 
As COG discussed its approach to the tournament after the win, power forward James Gist and Connelly had an interesting exchange.
 
“We go with the flow of the game and whoever is getting it done is getting it done,” Connelly said. “You think about some of these teams that are adding ringers, we got a team full of ringers.”
 
“We got a team full of alphas,” Gist added.
 
“But they’re all alpha males,” Connelly said, “who have accepted it might not be the James Gist show, or it might not be the Xavier Silas show.
 
“We look at the stat sheet and then just throw it right in the trash. Because all that matters is win, go on to the next game.”
 
City of Gods will play The Untouchables, a team of mostly Pitt alumni (see story), in a quarterfinal matchup on Saturday.

Villanova basketball heading to Spain for exhibition games in August

Villanova basketball heading to Spain for exhibition games in August

The defending national champion Villanova Wildcats will be racking up its frequent flier miles in a few weeks.
 
The team will travel to Spain on Aug. 2 for an eight-day tour of Barcelona and Madrid that includes three exhibition games against Spanish Select Teams, before returning home Aug. 10.
 
The Wildcats’ first exhibition game is in Barcelona on Friday, Aug. 5, followed by their final two games in Madrid on Sunday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 9.
 
“We’re very excited to bring our team to Spain, the birthplace and home of St. Thomas of Villanova,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said in a release. “This trip will help all of us learn more about our University’s heritage while also giving us the chance to play three quality opponents as we continue to prepare for the 2016-17 regular season.”
 
Villanova heads into the upcoming season returning three starters: forwards Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, and point guard Jalen Brunson. Hart and Jenkins are back for their senior seasons after both players went through the NBA Pre-Draft beforing returning to 'Nova.
 
Per NCAA rules, teams can take a trip abroad once every four years. Villanova last took an overseas preseason trip to France and the Netherlands in August 2011.