ESPN: PHILADELPHIA — On the way out of the Atlantic 10, Temple looked ready to take one more trophy as a keepsake.
Khalif Wyatt scored 30 points and Jake O’Brien had 19, and the Owls beat No. 21 VCU 84-76 on Sunday after rallying from a big first-half deficit.
The Owls (23-8, 11-5 A-10) flipped a 16-point hole into a 17-point lead and clinched the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
O’Brien rallied the Owls back from the big first-half hole with clutch 3-pointers in transition that propelled them toward their seventh straight win. O’Brien tied the game at 46-46 on a 3, then gave the Owls the lead for good with another 3 to go up 51-48 with less than 15 minutes left.
The Owls took off from there, thrilling a sellout crowd of 10,206 with tough buckets inside, while O’Brien led the surge from outside.
VCU coach Shaka Smart said he’s left trying to figure out why the Rams lost “their fire” after halftime, especially with first place at stake. The Rams were on the brink of sharing a championship in their first season in the A-10 after bolting the Colonial Athletic Association.
“Nobody transitions from a smaller league to a bigger league and wins the league in the first year,” Smart said. “This is why. You’ve got to win games like today. We just didn’t do what it took to win.”
And there Temple fans have it. I said that they needed to split the La Salle and VCU games while winning their other games remaining. They did even better. They won out. It wasn’t all pretty, though. I was in the stands for the URI/Temple game that really came down to the wire. As I was leaving the arena, I overheard a couple of students say “that was close; that was the tournament right there.” They were 100% correct. I thought that even though they won it would still negatively impact Temple’s chances as they barely squeaked by with a win, at home, against an 8-win team. If VCU came in to Temple and ran them off the court, that would have most likely force them to really do work in the A-10 tournament. Now they can win their first game and be guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament.
It was very much a huge win for Temple. A real demoralizing loss for VCU heading into the A-10 tournament.
Another big-time performance from a big-time player. Khalif Wyatt really should be the A-10 player of the year. In every meaningful statistic category (points, steals, assists, turnovers, etc.), Wyatt is ahead of the other players considered for POY honors (Juvonte Reddic-VCU, Rotnei Clarke-Butler, and Ramon Galloway-La Salle). Looking at those 4 players, I think it is safe to say that without Wyatt, Temple may not even be a .500 team in the conference. I think there are other players around Juvonte Reddic that can more than pick up the slack if he were to go down with an injury and VCU wouldn’t be as worse off by losing Reddic; such as Treveon Graham and Troy Daniels. Same can be said for Rotnei Clarke and Butler who have 4 other players besides Clarke who average 10ppg or more. Roosevelt Jones may not score as many points as Clarke, but he gets more rebounds, has more assists, and fewer turnovers. As for Ramon Galloway, La Salle can make up his rebounding numbers by giving Steve Mack or Jerrell Wright more time. Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland can be just as effective scoring and other than Galloway scoring 2 more points per game, Duren’s stats are almost identical to Galloway (assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers). Wyatt scores 8 more points per game than the second highest scorer on Temple and is the only one on Temple with over 4 assists per game. Temple would have a much tougher time replacing Wyatt than the other teams would have replacing their best player which I think is the definition of the Most VALUABLE Player. Wyatt has the intrinsic value of a POY candidate; he’s got good enough stats to win it but he also has the increased value to his team.