The men’s basketball team defeated Massachusetts 90-88 in overtime Wednesday night to clinch the No. 1 seed in the A-10 Tournament.
No. 23 Temple (23-6, 12-3 A-10) clinched at least a share of the Atlantic Ten Conference regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the A-10 Tournament Wednesday night in a 90-88 overtime win against Massachusetts that included 11 lead changes.
Coming off a loss at the hands of St. Joseph’s on Saturday, Feb. 25, Temple led by nine with two minutes and 53 seconds left in the second half when the Minutemen, led by sophomore guard Chaz Williams, tied the game at 80 and sent the teams to overtime.
Coach Fran Dunphy said Temple had a tough time dealing with the fast-paced guard.
“Whatever we tried it didn’t work, because [Williams] was terrific,” Dunphy said. “He hits back-to-back threes. He made another great three and drove it down hard, and we never recovered.”
After going down six early in overtime, Temple fought back to tie the game after a crucial three-point play converted by junior guard Khalif Wyatt.
“I knew we needed a basket,” Wyatt said. “We didn’t exactly need a three at that point, but I knew we needed a basket. I was able to get into the lane and draw contact and finish.”
Wyatt led Temple with 26 points and shot 17-for-18 from the free-throw line. Wyatt scored the last seven points for Temple in overtime and made the game-winning layup after an outlet pass from junior forward Rahlir Thomas-Jefferson.
“The ball was loose and I was thinking about getting in there, maybe,” Wyatt said. “I figured Rahlir was going to get possession so I leaked out. I got out and thank God I finished it.”
Wyatt said he almost lost possession before his wide open, game-deciding basket.
“I’m not used to being all by myself down the court,” Wyatt said. “I dribbled it and it went too high, I guess. But I tried to do a good job of not walking and letting it drop into my hands and just focusing and finishing.”
Temple struggled early against UMass’ press defense and Dunphy said that the Minutemen have all but mastered the style of play.
“It’s a unique style and they’re perfecting it at this point,” Dunphy said.
On senior night and Temple’s last home game of the season, graduate center Micheal Eric tied a career high with 19 points, all in the second half, to pull the Owls back from a three-point deficit at halftime.
“I just thought my team needed me,” Eric said. “I thought about that with every possession, ‘The team needs me to do something right now.’ I was telling [Wyatt] to pass me the ball and I just went off from there.”
“[Eric] was very good in the second half,” Dunphy added. “We need to be a balanced team and get it inside and have some scoring down there. I was pleased that he was doing what he’s doing.”
Along with Eric, redshirt-senior Ramone Moore, senior guard Juan Fernandez and senior guard Jake Godino played their last game at the Liacouras Center. Godino made his first-career start and played the game’s first minute.
“It’s a great feeling [playing on senior night]. It’s an emotional day for me and the other seniors,” Eric said. “19 points is nothing, it’s the win that mattered. I was just lucky to be in a position to be there for my teammates.”
Temple travels to Fordham (10-18, 3-12 A-10) on Saturday, March 2, in their last game before the A-10 Tournament to face the Rams, who are coming off of a 20-point loss at the hands of Rhode Island.
“We’ve had games like this before where we’ve had to come back, but I think this one was big for us because we’re coming off a loss,” Wyatt said. “Nobody wants to lose two in a row. We just wanted to bounce back. Hopefully this momentum carries into Saturday when we have a chance to lock up the regular season championship.”
Sean Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.