DAYTON, Ohio- It took Temple and senior guard Khalif Wyatt two minutes to record their first points in the 2013 NCAA tournament courtesy of a Wyatt layup. Sophomore guard Will Cummings hit a three-pointer from the corner 56 seconds later giving the Owls a lead they would not surrender the rest of the contest.
Temple’s brief early dry spell was quickly erased as the Owls emerged with a 76-72 win over the North Carolina State Wolfpack (24-11). The win gives the Owls (24-9) their second tournament win in six trips to the dance. Temple currently awaits the winner of No. 1 Indiana/No. 16 James Madison for a chance to go to the Sweet Sixteen. The team has not advanced that far since 2001 when it went to the Elite Eight.
“We knew it was going to come down to the end,” coach Fran Dunphy. “We had a nice lead but NC State is too powerful an offensive team to have it be easy for us down the stretch.”
While Temple possessed a lead as large as 18 points in the second half, NC State was able to chip away at the deficit. Senior forward Scott Wood’s three pointer with less than three minutes remaining cut the lead to 63-60. The Temple lead would not surpass six points until there were 20 seconds remaining.
“They got out in transition and made plays,” Wyatt said. “We gave them too much space and [junior guard Lorenzo Brown] hit some big shots.”
NC State rebounded from a 10-of-25 shooting performance in the first half to shoot 19-of-27 in the second half, 70.4 percent. The Wolfpack also held the Owls to a 40 percent field goal percentage in the second half.
“Maybe if we had started that five minutes into the game we would have been a little better,” Wolfpack senior forward Scott Wood said.
Temple’s initial offensive outburst was aided by a 38-22 first half lead. Of the 17 points the Owls recorded off of turnovers, 15 came before intermission. NC State coughed the ball up 13 times in the game compared to the Owls five.
“We got off to a very poor start,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They turned just about every turnover into a basket.”
“We turned the ball over too much, that was the problem,” Gottfried added. “Points around the rim percentage-wise was amazing, but we turned the ball over too much.”
Wyatt led the way for the Owls with 31 points, 20 of which came in the second half. Wyatt scored six of the Owls’ final eight points. The 30-plus point performance improved the Owls’ record to 3-3 when Wyatt scores 30 or more. The 31-point mark was the highest for an Owl in the NCAA tournament since 1991.
Graduate forward Jake O’Brien scored 18 for the Owls in addition to his five rebounds. O’Brien recorded 13 first-half points on 5-of-7 shooting but was held scoreless for the final 16 minutes of the game.
“They were definitely defending me differently in the second half,” O’Brien said. “They were right up on my feet every time I caught the ball. The rest of the guys just stepped up and made plays. It’s not always going to be hitting open shots, but I have to find a way to help out in other ways.”
NC State was led by junior guard Lorenzo Brown and junior forward C.J. Leslie. The duo recorded 22 and 20 points, respectively, in a losing effort. Brown also added nine assists. The Wolfpack were aided by senior forward Richard Howell’s 15 rebounds and 14 points, the only player to record a double-double on either team.
“Wood late in the game was tremendous,” Dunphy said. “They are a great offensive team and they are balanced. They are balanced inside and out.”
Redshirt sophomore forward Anthony Lee played sparingly in the contest. Lee, who played 16 minutes against Massachusetts in the team’s last contest due to migraine headaches and concussion symptoms, registered eight minutes of action finishing with three points and two rebounds.
“[Lee] had a couple of opportunities inside,” Dunphy said. “He had a great jump hook and he got the ball in the paint but they stripped him a couple times. Is he going to play on Sunday, I sure hope so.”
History was also made in the contest. Wyatt, who went 12-of-14 from the line and passed Hal Lear for most free throws made in a season. Lear set the record at 189 in 1956, a mark that stood until Wyatt reached 200 today.
Wyatt will have a chance to add to his free-throw numbers on Sunday when the Owls will likely take on No. 1 Indiana on Sunday, March 24. The Owls have won the last three meetings against the Hoosiers. The time of the game has not yet been announced.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.