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February 28, 2013

Wyatt erupts, leads Owls past Detroit

John Chaney, Temple's former and colorful Hall of Fame coach, stopped by the Owls' practice Wednesday as they prepared for Thursday night's game against Detroit at the Liacouras Center.

He had nice things to say, Temple's current coach, Fran Dunphy, said.

"Interesting things," Dunphy said, "but nice. It was not YouTube-able."

It's safe to assume Chaney can't be pleased with how Temple has played defense this season, and that didn't exactly change for the better Thursday night. And Dunphy, who calls Chaney a mentor and a friend, acknowledged that his teams have yet to do what Chaney's did in the postseason.

But Dunphy and this current Temple team can say they have done one important thing Chaney was able to do during his remarkable run on North Broad Street.

With the Owls' come-from-behind, 83-78 win over Detroit, they have now posted the program's sixth-straight 20-win season, improving to 20-8 with Temple's fourth victory in a row. The last time the Owls reeled off six consecutive 20-win seasons was from 1995-96 to 2000-01, with that 2001 campaign representing Temple's last Elite Eight appearance.

This game, part of the Gotham Classic, was originally supposed to be played back on Dec. 28, but bad weather conditions did not allow Detroit to fly safely to Philadelphia, so the game was postponed and made for a bit of an unusual late-February nonconference game.

And just as it has all season, Temple made sure to keep things interesting.

With the Owls trailing by five with 2 minutes, 55 seconds left to play, guard Khalif Wyatt scored 12 of Temple's last 14 points to save the day on a night when he was held scoreless in the first half. Jake O'Brien's 16 points on a perfect 6 of 6 shooting, Scootie Randall's 18 points and four three-pointers and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson's double-double performance of 13 points and 12 rebounds were instrumental in carrying the team for the first 37 minutes.

Then Wyatt went off.

"He absolutely drives you insane," Dunphy said of Wyatt, "but you live with him because he can do some extraordinary things."

After Wyatt scored on a layup to cut Detroit's lead to 74-71 with 1:57 remaining, fellow senior guard TJ DiLeo came up with a steal and got it to Wyatt, who banked in a three 13 seconds later - "And I'm sure he called it, too," Dunphy deadpanned - to tie the game and electrify the building.

After Detroit (19-11) couldn't come up with an answer following Doug Anderson's missed jumper, Wyatt put Temple ahead for good with another three at the 1:04 mark and later pushed the Owls' lead to five at 79-74 with 27 seconds left. The Titans twice cut the lead to three but never got any closer.

Detroit guard Ray McCallum, a former McDonald's All-American who spurned a bunch of big offers to stay home and play for his father, Titans coach Ray McCallum, had at one point taken over the game, outscoring Wyatt by 19-8 before Wyatt took the game back.

McCallum, who will likely be playing in the NBA at some point, finished with a game-high 21 points. Fellow guard Jason Calliste chipped in 19 and Anderson added 17.

The Titans, who are in second place in the Horizon League, are one of America's better mid-major programs. They shot 54.2 percent in the first half en route to building an eight-point halftime lead and rebounded from a slow second-half start to shoot 51.9 overall, which was equal parts poor defense by Temple and underrated talent from guys like McCallum, Anderson, Calliste and forward Nick Minnerath, who scored 15 points and drained three treys.

But Wyatt, who shot 0-for-6 in the first half, responded in crunch time, just as he has any number of times this season.

"I've got teeth marks like you can't believe on my tongue after four years of watching this," Dunphy said. "But it's Khalif."

Wyatt, the Atlantic 10's leading scorer, still managed a game-high seven assists and was again solid from the free-throw line, where he went 9 of 10, all of which came in the second half.

"I think I had a rough first half, offensively and defensively," Wyatt said. "My teammates did a great job of encouraging me, and my coaches. Me, personally, I was just thinking, 'Keep going, keep going, keep going, keep attacking, keep attacking, try to make plays. I think I made some plays for my teammates. And down the stretch, I had enough courage to take some big shots, my teammates trusted me and I'm glad I could reward them."

That's how things have gone so many times in a season where things just don't seem destined to come easy for Temple. Wyatt said it's "actually kind of fun."

But is getting used to this type of ending a good thing?

"We don't blow teams out," Wyatt said. "That's not what we do."

What Temple, which came into the game with an RPI of 42, did do was take one step closer to making a strong case for its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. And to think two weeks ago that things didn't look so good after the Owls lost at home to a Duquesne team that had yet to win in the A-10.

"It's nice to see where we are at this point," Dunphy said. "I don't know that we would have predicted this a few weeks ago, but it's nice to see. And now we've got to turn around in a very short period of time and play a league game against Rhode Island (Saturday) that's making great strides as a team."

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.


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