Khalif Wyatt scored nearly half of Temple’s points in a 70-69 loss to St. Joseph’s University on Feb. 2.
Wyatt scored a career high 34 points, including 21 points in the second half and 16 points in the game’s last 10 minutes.
His performance, in a game with big Atlantic 10 Conference and Big 5 implications, was a stunning example of his value to the men’s basketball team, which is struggling to stay competitive in an increasingly good conference.
The St. Joe’s contest was the seventh-straight game when Wyatt scored in double digits, and the 14th such game this season. He leads Temple and the A-10 with 18.6 points per game.
When asked if Wyatt was perhaps too valuable to his team after he accounted for nearly half of its points against St. Joe’s, coach Fran Dunphy said Wyatt provides his team with the opportunity to have an explosive offense.
“Every game is different in its personality and the way it’s played,” Dunphy said. “Tonight [Wyatt] had opportunities, and I think he took them. He can probably distribute a little more, but for me, anytime he has the ball I think we are a dangerous offensive team.”
Wyatt’s story at Temple is a classic one of players under Dunphy who have contributed as a sophomore and had a breakout season as a junior, before being the team’s main offensive weapon, sometimes to a fault, as a senior.
After not starting his freshman season, Wyatt excelled as the team’s sixth man as a sophomore, earning A-10 Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2011. Last season, Wyatt averaged 17.1 points per game and finished as the team’s second-leading scorer behind Ramone Moore.
“The way that Khalif has grown in their program is a testimony to him and a testimony to [Dunphy] and his staff,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said on Feb. 2. “There is a certain talent and he has that talent. He scores the basketball. If I’m looking at both of our teams, the difference is they have a guy that can get 30, we don’t have anybody that can do that, because we don’t have a confidence level and we’re not making shots.”
“It’s courage,” Martelli said. “He has to live with the fact that he could miss that shot. That’s what shot makers do. They are willing to take the consequences of make or miss.”
Moore’s story mirrors Wyatt’s. Moore also earned A-10 Sixth Man of the Year honors as a sophomore, before leading his team in scoring as a junior and senior.
Before him, Dionte Christmas, who played as a freshman under coach John Chaney, broke out as a sophomore under Dunphy and led his team in scoring in each of his last three seasons.
But this track that Dunphy creates for his student-athletes could end up hurting the Owls as they transition to the Big East Conference next season, when Temple may need more freshmen to contribute right away.
Historically, Dunphy has taken the position that freshmen need to earn their minutes on the college level rather than in high school. The mindset has caused Temple’s three freshmen on the team this season to receive sometimes minor, otherwise inconsistent playing time.
Freshman guard Quenton DeCosey has seen the most minutes of his class, averaging 7.2 minutes per game. But his playing time has yet to reach a consistent level. DeCosey played 22 minutes against Syracuse (18-3), 18 minutes against Duke (19-2) and 13 minutes against Butler (18-4), three of the best teams Temple played this season. However, he played seven minutes against Richmond (14-9) on Jan. 30 and six minutes against the University of Pennsylvania (4-16) on Jan. 23. Against St. Joe’s (13-7), DeCosey didn’t play at all.
In DeCosey’s place against St. Joe’s, freshman guard Daniel Dingle played a career high six minutes. Dingle, though he was the highest-ranked recruit of Temple’s 2012 class, has played in eight out of 21 games.
“[Dingle’s] worked really hard,” Dunphy said on Feb. 2. “He deserved this opportunity. He made no mistakes out there. He’s a great guy and he’s worked really hard, so he earned those minutes.”
A 6-foot-10-inch forward, freshman Devontae Watson has played in four games this season, earning his most minutes – six – against Alcorn State (8-17) on Dec. 17
With those freshmen on the bench, and a lack of offensive productivity elsewhere, Temple will have to continue to rely heavily on Wyatt as the team’s main scorer.
“I just play. I play basketball,” Wyatt said. “I watch a lot of basketball. I try to make as many plays as I can for my teammates. I just try to win. That’s what I really try to do.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.