DAYTON, Ohio – When the buzzer signaling halftime rang, Temple was holding a 16-point lead that no one expected them to have. They led 38-22, and North Carolina State looked dead in the water.
When the buzzer signaling the end of the game rang, Temple had squeaked out a 76-72 victory, a result that made much more sense given the Owls’ tendency to play close games.
So what happened in the second half?
“They got out in transition and made some plays,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. “[Junior guard Lorenzo] Brown is a really good playmaker. He got out in transition and made a few plays. We let [senior forward Scott] Wood up for air a couple times, and he made tough shots that helped fuel their comeback.”
NC State scored 22 points in the first half, shooting 40 percent from the field. They scored six fast break points (Temple scored 11), and turned the ball over 10 times. In the second half, the Wolfpack scored 50 points on 70.4 percent shooting. They got 18 fast break points, didn’t allow Temple to score any, and turned the ball over three times.
The fastbreak points are the most telling stat, as NC State loves to use its athleticism and run the fast break. Temple prefers a slower game, and the Owls did a great job of controlling the pace in the first half. That didn’t happen in the second half.
“On the fast break, we just made sure we got back,” sophomore guard Will Cummings said. “There was a stretch where we kind of started to get back to our old ways and try and get steals on the breaks and stuff. So we had to refocus and made sure that we sprinted back on defense and limit the opportunities for easy buckets in transition.”
NC State’s turnovers in the first half made it difficult for them to control the pace. Temple capitalized on this, getting 15 points off turnovers in the first half.
“We turned the ball over too much,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “That was the problem. When we didn’t turn it over and we executed our offense and got the ball around the rim, we scored a lot, opened the game up with great execution.”
“That first half kind of put us in a hole,” Wolfpack senior forward Scott Wood said. “It was just too much to come back and try and chip away. We did a good job of getting stops. Maybe if we’d have started that five minutes into the first half a little bit quicker, we’d have been right there at the end.”
Even when NC State was controlling the pace, Temple played well offensively. The Owls shot 48 percent and only committed five turnovers, the lowest amount since January 6, when they lost to Kansas despite only having four turnovers.
“We managed the game well,” senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson said, “When we managed our offense and got scores, we were able to set up our defense pretty quickly. If we took a quick shot, they were able to get back in transition. Luckily, we ran the offense well and made shots.”
In the regular season, NC State ranked 12th in the nation in 3-point percentage, shooting 39.3 percent and making 5.3 per game. The Wolfpack shot 30.8 percent today from behind the arc. Wood, who hit 44.3 percent of his threes in the regular season, made only two of his six 3-point shots and didn’t make one until the 3:30 mark of the second half.
“We had to be there on the catch, because Wood is an excellent shooter,” Cummings said. “We had to make sure we turned the corner when he turned the corner and we were there when he caught the ball. I know two times he got up for air, but we did a pretty good job on him today.”
Temple will play top-seeded Indiana on Sunday. Indiana boasts a national player of the year candidate in junior guard Victor Oladipo and one of the top big men in the country in sophomore forward Cody Zeller.
“He’s a real good talent,” sophomore forward Anthony Lee said of Zeller. “We haven’t really planned for him yet, but I’m sure that we will have to try to match up with him running down the floor because he likes to sprint down the court and get easy buckets. To prepare for him is going to be a total team effort from all the big men. I feel like we can handle the job, like we’ve been doing pretty much this whole season.”
“We’re looking forward to accepting the challenge,” Jefferson said. “Going up against those guys and trying to come out with a win.”
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.