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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wyatt shines in upset of No. 3/5 Duke


For the fourth year in a row, Temple fans stormed the court in celebration of their team’s upset against a Top-10 program.

Following defeats of No. 8/8 Tennessee in 2008, No. 3/3 Villanova in 2009 and No. 9/10 Georgetown last year, the Owls stunned the No. 3/5 Duke Blue Devils at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night with a 78-73 victory.

“I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet,” redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore said. “It was a great win and some guys really stepped up to help us get over the hump. It just feels great.”

Owls’ junior guard Khalif Wyatt led all scorers with 22 points and added five steals. At one point around the four-minute mark, Wyatt hit back to back threes that extended the Owls’ lead from three to nine, creating a cushion that Duke wouldn’t be able to overcome.

“Tonight just happened,” Wyatt said. “I was making shots. My teammates trusted me. I just kept coming through for them.”

Wyatt’s performance was typical of a Temple player in these kinds of games during the past four years.
In the 2008 win against Tennessee, Owls’ guard Dionte Christmas hit seven threes and scored 35 points. Now a senior, guard Juan Fernandez put up a similar performance against Villanova in his sophomore season. He hit seven threes of his own and scored 33 points. Last season versus Georgetown, Moore took over in the second half and scored a then career high 30 points in the Owls’ upset.

As Wyatt scored eight points in the final five minutes of this game against Duke, he joined the company of some of Temple’s finest players of the past five years.

“My teammates trusted me,” Wyatt said. “I wanted to come through for them…and I did.”

Though Fernandez and Moore have proven themselves reliable in Temple’s previous upsets of Top-10 programs, the team feels comfortable with the ball in the hands of any of their three starting guards in crucial situations.

“[Wyatt] has huge courage,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He just has no fear. I think that’s what you need in a game like this.”

“Whoever has it going, we put the ball it that person’s hands,” Moore added.

Playing on a national stage in a game broadcast on ESPN 2, the Owls outshot and outrebounded the Blue Devils, who came into the game scoring the sixth-most points per game in the country and averaging a shooting percentage of better than 50 percent.

Dunphy said the perimeter defense of Temple’s trio of guards was just as important as their prowess on offense.

“We wanted to take away the three and try to run them off the three-point line a little bit,” Dunphy said. “When you can win a game like this, everybody has to play well and you have to get a little lucky, and I think we did that.”

“I think there was only one way we could win, and that is to manage the game and have those three guys [in control],” Dunphy added. “They’re pretty good basketball players and they’re going to be able to make good decisions with the ball.”

Temple did all of this without two of their regular starters. Graduate center Micheal Eric is out indefinitely with an injured right kneecap, and senior forward Scootie Randall may miss the entire season while recovering from offseason knee surgery.

But just as Temple fans celebrated after the game on the home court of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, Temple can celebrate the fact that the injury-plagued Owls upset one of the most lauded programs in college basketball due to their depth at guard and an outstanding late-game performance by an unlikely star.

“[Duke] is an incredible basketball program and for us to come out on top tonight is very, very nice for a lot of people,” Dunphy said. “We’re thrilled to be standing here as winners tonight.”

Owls play host to No. 3/5 Duke

Temple (9-3) will play in arguably its most anticipated regular season game of the season tonight as the Owls host Duke (12-1) at  7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

The game, which will broadcast nationally on ESPN 2, is a part two of the schools’ home and home agreement. The Owls lost to the Blue Devils, 78-61, last year at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Blue Devils’ then senior Kyle Singler led all scorers with 28 points, while then senior forward Lavoy Allen led the Owls with a double double.

Both Singler and Allen have now moved on, making it so that this year’s matchup promises to feature some new faces.

For Duke, the USA Today third-ranked and Associated Press fifth-ranked Blue Devils are led in scoring by freshman guard Austin Rivers, who averages more than 15 points per game. Duke also features a plethora of lengthy forwards, including a pair of 6’10 brothers named Plumlee, junior Mason and senior Miles.

Temple counters with its trio of high-scoring guards and undersized forwards. The Owls senior guards Juan Fernandez (13.3 ppg) and Ramone Moore (17.4 ppg), and junior guard Khalif Wyatt (14.2 ppg) all average more than 10 points per game, but injuries have cost the Owls in the frontcourt.

Graduate center Micheal Eric and senior forward Scootie Randall have both missed significant time due to injury this season and will not play tonight. Randall is expected to redshirt this season as he has struggled to recover from offseason surgery in June to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his knee. Eric has missed Temple’s last eight games after re-injuring the same kneecap that kept him out of his last 10 games last year.

Both Eric and Randall were also injured for Temple’s game last year against Duke.

In Eric and Randall’s absence, the Owls are left with two inexperienced forwards in the frontcourt. Redshirt-freshman Anthony Lee will start in only the 13th game of his career alongside junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who is a natural three-guard forced to play power forward.

The 6’9 Lee and 6’6 Hollis-Jefferson will have their hands full trying to defend the bigger Plumlee brothers, along with Blue Devils junior forward Ryan Kelly, who is six foot, eleven inches and weighs 230 pounds.

The Blue Devils high-scoring offense is built around the three-point shot. Duke has the sixth-best three point percentage in the country and has hit 90 threes in 13 games so far this season. Temple counters with the 4th-best defense in the country defending the three, holding opponents to a three-point percentage of just 25.6 percent.

Instead of trying to win the game in the paint, the Owls will try to rely on their talented trio of guards and their excellent perimeter defense.

This is a formula that has proven to give Duke some trouble this season. In the Blue Devils’ season opener against Belmont, the Bruins’ trio of experienced guards all shot better than 50 percent and scored more than 10 points as Belmont took Duke to the buzzer in a 77-76 loss.

If Temple can shoot the ball better than their 37.8 average in their past two games and defend the three as well as they have all season, then its experienced club could pull off the upset against the young Duke squad that features only one senior.

Temple is no stranger to upsetting elite programs of late, either. In the past three seasons, the Owls have defeated a program ranked in the Top-10 in the country.

Tonight, in front of a national audience and a home crowd, the Owls will try to make it four in a row.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wyatt three lifts Owls over Delaware

To conclude a back and forth contest, Owls’ junior guard Khalif Wyatt hit a game-winning three pointer with 35 seconds left to lead Temple to a 66-63 victory against Delaware.

Wyatt had been 1-10 shooting before making the game-deciding shot, apart of a lackluster offensive performance from the Owls that saw the team shoot 39.1% from the field.

Owls’ junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson led the team with 13 points and eight rebounds.

This was the second game in a row for Temple that came down to the wire after the Owls’ 87-85 defeat of Buffalo on Wednesday.

Check back to The Temple News later tonight for full game coverage.

Bull fighting

This game was ugly.

It started with alternate 10-0 runs as both teams took advantage of the fact that their opponent didn’t want to play defense early on.

It ended with a put back by Owls’ redshirt-freshman forward Anthony Lee that had no business even being possible after the ball touched two Buffalo defenders first.

In truth, Temple (8-3)  really shouldn’t have won this game.

The Owls committed 11 turnovers and shot a mere 36.4 percent from the floor. Lee got bullied around in the frontcourt for the entire 25 minutes he played and the Bulls (6-4) scored 50 points in the paint.

But in a contest that was dominated by broken plays and offensive rebounds, and featured too many inexplicable plays to count, the Owls fought, scratched and clawed their way to a 87-85 overtime victory against Buffalo.

“If you’re telling me we won this game in a hard-fought fashion and found a way to do it, I’d be pleased,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I’m hoping that’s going to become a signature for this team, that they find a way.”

Buffalo held a six-point lead with a little more than a minute remaining in the game, but were unable to hit their free throws to secure the win.

Senior guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore both hit three-pointers in the final minute that allowed Temple to tie the game and send it into overtime.

“It’s kids making big shots,” Dunphy said. “We made some big shots. That’s what it takes, guys having confidence in themselves who can step up and make big shots.”

The Owls did a better job on the offensive boards than the Bulls, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second-chance points.

Moore and Fernandez said that taking opportunities that Buffalo handed to them was a key to the Owls’ victory.

“Not every game is going to have things go your way,” Moore said. “It’s very important to make those plays.”

“It matters how you play, but as long as you find a way to win the game, at the end, all you see is the scoreboard,” Fernandez added.

The Owls especially had trouble in the paint, as Lee had his hands full with Bulls’ forwards, sophomore Javon McCrea and senior Mitchell Watt. McCrea finished with 28 points and seven rebounds, while Watt scored 22 points and grabbed nine boards.

“[Lee] is a redshirt freshman who is tremendously undersized in width and girth,” Dunphy said. “He tried, but has a whole lot of work to do.”

“This was the worst defensive performance of my college basketball career so far,” Lee added.

Both Lee and Owls’ junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson were in foul trouble in the second half, forcing Temple, still in the absence of senior forwards Micheal Eric and Scootie Randall, to play shorthanded and undersized.

“We were shorthanded and playing with four guards most of the time, and they took advantage of that,” Fernandez said.

But somehow, despite the missing starters and its poor shooting performance, Temple found a way to win.

“I was pleased with some of the things we did, but other things we struggled with,” Dunphy said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of these down to the wire games, but we’re just going to have to figure out a way to survive.”

Temple special teams coordinator leaves for Ohio State

Zach Smith, who served as special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach for Temple this season, has accepted the job of wide receivers coach at Ohio State, it was announced Thursday.

“I am very happy and supportive of Zach Smith’s new opportunity at Ohio State,” Temple coach Steve Addazio said in a press release. “He grew up in Columbus, and as the grandson of former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, he is a lifelong Buckeye fan. I thank Zach for his contributions to Temple Football this year and wish Zach and his family all the best.”

Smith will be reunited with Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer, who Smith worked under at Florida as an offensive and special teams assistant and recruiting evaluator from 2005-09. Smith served as the special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach at Marshall University in 2010 before joining Temple this year.

“Zach has done a terrific job as wide receivers coach at both Marshall and this past year at Temple,” Meyer said in a press release. “I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to work with him again. Ohio State is going to benefit from his coaching and his abilities as a recruiter.”

Smith is the first member of Meyer’s former coaching staff to leave Temple and join him at Ohio State amid speculation that Meyer is trying to get his old group back together.

Addazio, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, offensive line coach Justin Frye, defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, defensive line coach Sean Cronin, graduate assistant Mark DeLeone and head strength and conditioning coach Frank Piraino all worked with Meyer at Florida.