Anthony Bellino (@Bellino_Anthony)
In Temple’s game against Duke earlier this month senior guard Khalif Wyatt struggled, to say the least. He went just 3-of-15 from the field in a 23-point loss to the Blue Devils; against Syracuse on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, Wyatt’s performance was exactly the opposite.
Wyatt’s career-high 33 points including 15-of-15 from the free-throw line led Temple (9-2) to an 83-79 upset victory over third-ranked Syracuse (10-1) denying Orange coach Jim Boeheim his 901st career win. With the win, Fran Dunphy’s Temple teams have defeated a top-ten ranked opponent in each of the last five seasons.
“He has no fear, he just wants the moment, I thought he embraced the moment,” Dunphy said of Wyatt. “He made some really good plays when we were struggling to score and stay in the game.”
In addition to Wyatt, sophomore center Anthony Lee had the best game of his career at the most famous arena in the world. Lee tallied a career-high 21 points and pulled in 11 rebounds, five of which were on the offensive end. Lee had to play a different kind of inside game against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone instead of the man-to-man defenses that most teams play. Lee was 11-of-14 (79 percent) from the free-throw line against the Orange, 16 percent high than his season average.
“I was just playing energetic, that’s my game to be a rebounder, I could’ve got more if I got my hands on balls,” Lee said. “I was being poised and gathering myself as I caught the ball, they were fouling a lot so I was just trying to go up strong and I capitalized on free throws.”
(See also: As Andrew Albert writes, Lee uses stage for career day)
Temple limited Syracuse sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams to 13 points on 3-of-15 from the field and just four assists; Carter-Williams came in leading the country averaging 10.7 assists per game. The Owls also limited Syracuse’s leading scorer, senior forward James Southerland, to just six points.
“We talked a little bit about trying to deny him the ball but he’s so good and so fast and so long so that was difficult to do,” Dunphy said of defending Carter-Williams. “We’re a switching team a lot so we caught with Carter-Williams against Jake O’Brien and Anthony Lee and those are not easy for our guys to handle.”
Temple used a different lineup for most of the second half; Wyatt and Lee were joined by seniors Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson as well as freshman Quenton DeCosey because of the full-court press defense that Syracuse played in the second half. The game was physical from both sides and saw the teams combine for 70 free-throw attempts mainly due to the fast break action the full-court press brings.
“We knew we were in for a tough battle and I thought we battled it as well as we could,” Dunphy said. “Physically, this game could take a lot out of you and luckily we have a few days to appreciate the game and the win.”
This years win against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden marks the second consecutive year that Temple has beaten a top-five ranked opponent in an NBA arena; they defeated Duke last year at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I think our guys understand how big the moment is coming into New York City and Madison Square Garden, I think the biggest thing is playing a team like Syracuse,” Dunphy said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate, we’ve won some games against some pretty good teams in some pretty good environments.”
Temple came into this game following a 72-62 loss to Canisius of the MAAC. Randall credited a good week of practice to the Owls being able to bounce back so quickly after a poor performance against Canisius at home.
“It wasn’t really too intense, we had three games in six days it wasn’t too relaxing but it was more a knowledge of the game,” Randall said of practices following the Canisius game. “Knowing and identifying what Syracuse’s strengths are and as a result we won the game today.”
Temple will head home for a Dec. 28th matchup against a tough Detroit team who played Syracuse to a four-point game this past week.
Side Note: Seniors Khalif Wyatt, T.J. DiLeo, Scootie Randall and Jake O’Brien have played in numerous college basketball games throughout their careers. Here’s what they had to say about upsetting third-ranked Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.
Randall: “It was a great win, we personally have a lot more work to do but it was a great win, I want the guys to enjoy this and prepare for Detroit who is a great team.”
Wyatt: “This is right up there with Duke I guess, both great teams, both great traditions, great programs,” Wyatt added. “We really scrapped for it, it was a really scrappy win, everybody played hard.”
DiLeo: “I liked all the wins to tell you the truth but it’s nice being at Madison Square Garden, one of the most historic arenas in the world so that makes it all that better.”
O’Brien: “This is by far the best, winning in this arena against Syracuse, a top-five team on national television, you can’t ask for anything more.”