Khalif Wyatt scored a career-high 33 points
NEW YORK – Fresh off a home loss to Canisius and having not played as well as its 8-2 record would indicate, the Temple men’s basketball team came to New York without much momentum to take on the country's No. 3 team.
But putting together their best game of the season, the Owls defeated a top-10 team for the fifth straight year, beating No. 3 Syracuse, 83-79, behind 33 points from Khalif Wyatt.
NEW YORK – Fresh off a home loss to Canisius and having not played as well as its 8-2 record would indicate, the Temple men’s basketball team came to New York City without much momentum to take on the No. 3 team in the country on Saturday.
But putting together their best game of the season, the Owls defeated a top-10 team for the fifth straight year in beating No. 3 Syracuse, 83-79, behind a career-high 33 points from Khalif Wyatt.
“Playing in this venue was big, it’s a place you want to play if you’re a basketball player,” said Wyatt. “You have to live in that moment. It means a lot. This was a perfect time and a perfect place to get my career high. Coming in here, we showed some focus, toughness, got some loose balls and came out with a big win.
“One of our keys was to not settle for too many jump shots against the zone, we wanted to get some penetration and we did a good job of that. We got out in transition, got some foul shots and just stayed in attack mode.”
Struggling from the field coming in, Wyatt found his rhythm, shooting 8-for-17 and getting himself to the free throw line where he went 15-for-15. He scored 20 in the first half.
“He made some great plays and that was the only way we were going to stay in the game,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “He has no fear. He just wants the moment, and he embraced the moment today.”
Sophomore center Anthony Lee played his best game as an Owl, scoring 21 against the tough Orange zone. Lee also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots.
“I was able to be successful just by being poised and gathering myself after I caught the ball,” said Lee. “They were fouling a lot. I was just trying to go up strong. I was capitalizing on the free throws. If I didn’t hit the free throws, it would probably be a different story.
“I’ve been sick, but I’ve been recovering and I had a lot of energy and getting back to myself. Today, the atmosphere, being in Madison Square, really went into how we played.”
Temple, which has settled for three-pointers for much of the season, still took 24 but also went to the line 36 times, hitting 29. In addition to Wyatt’s 15-for-15, Lee knocked down 11-of-14.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim blamed foul-shooting for the loss which dropped his squad to 10-1. The Orange were just 19-for-34 from the line in the tightly-called game.
“I thought Temple played really well and they did a tremendous job,” said Boeheim. “The first half we made some bad defensive adjustments. Temple is a good team. They did not shoot well in their two losses and they shot well tonight and made their free throws and we didn’t.
“You don’t like to say it comes down to free throws, but when you miss 15, it’s going to be tough to win any game. Bottom line is they made 29 and we made 19.”
The Owls were patient and though they turned it over 14 times – many times against the stingy Orange press – they ran their offense and took better shots than they had in recent contests.
“I think we tried a lot of different combinations over the last few days to get the post players to flash the foul line and make some plays from there,” said Dunphy. “I thought Rahlir (Hollis-Jefferson) did a really good job for the most part today. I saw some guys have a kick out for threes as well.
“In order for us to win the game, everybody had to do their job. For the most part we managed the game pretty well from our offensive end. We had a couple quick jumpers, but for the most part we managed the game.”
Freshman Quenton DeCosey played his most extended and critical minutes as an Owl and was on the floor down the stretch, finishing with six points and six rebounds. He hit two big shots, then the clinching free throw with eight seconds left – pushing the lead to four - after missing his first three attempts at the line.
“It meant a lot to be on the floor in the clutch, I didn’t want to disappoint (Dunphy),” said DeCosey. “Rebounding, foul shots, defense, whatever I could do to help, I wanted to show I belonged out there.
“It was a little bit of nervousness at the end, but the last (foul shot) I knew it was going down. I had confidence in myself.”
Syracuse started the game like it was going to run the Owls out of the building, taking a 24-14 lead, but Temple clawed back. Reserve Jake O’Brien scored seven points in a 10-2 Owls’ run and the game went to the half with Syracuse ahead, 40-38.
The Owls scored the first six points after the break and pushed the lead to nine at 51-42, but Syracuse rallied to tie it at 53.
A three-pointer by Scootie Randall, scoring his first points of the game after a cold stretch coming in, put Temple up 62-59 with 9:56 left. DeCosey added a three to make it 65-61 and a Randall three made it an eight-point game at 70-62.
“I’ve been here five years, I know what Coach Dunph wants, and my teammates keep telling me to shoot,” said Randall. “In a game like this you have to have poise, keep your composure, know what your game plan is and stick to it, and as a result we won the game. Credit to Khalif and Anthony for how they played, and Quenton and Rahlir grabbed some big rebounds.
“Syracuse plays up-and-down, they’re so athletic, so talented. They’re a very aggressive team and you had to take advantage of the gaps at times.”
The Orange had a couple runs left in them, getting it to 74-72 on a C.J. Fair three, and Michael Carter-Williams hit one of two free throws to cut the deficit to one. Brandon Triche then missed a three from the corner that would have given Syracuse the lead with 1:05 to play, Carter-Williams couldn't convert a putback and Wyatt was fouled after the rebound.
The senior knocked down two and Temple hit six more free throws to seal the biggest win of this season.
Fair finished with 25 points for the Orange, while Triche scored 17 and Carter-Williams added 13 points and six assists. But it wasn’t enough on a day the Owls reprised their role of giant killers.
“I think our guys understand how big the moment is and playing a team like Syracuse, who is just remarkable,” said Dunphy. “Our kids have done a great job in responding to the challenge. I wish it was worth more than one victory. It was really fun to be in this environment.”