Junior guard Khalif Wyatt scored 14 points in the final five minutes to lead men’s basketball to a 79-72 comeback win against George Washington.
Although junior guard Khalif Wyatt didn’t start the game, he certainly made sure that he finished it.
Denied the start due to showing up late for a study hall, Wyatt paid back his dues late Wednesday night, putting up 14 of his 22 points in the game’s last five minutes to lead Temple (18-5) to a 79-72 victory against George Washington (8-16) on a night in which they came back from 10 points down with five minutes to go.
“I thought [George Washington] played really well,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “They deserved to win the game and we were very fortunate to win. If you’re going to have a good year, there might be a couple of games where you just get lucky and I think this was one of them.”
Temple quickly went up four points on their Atlantic Ten Conference opponent. However, George Washington took over and dominated the first half, taking advantage of a sluggish Temple squad that suddenly couldn’t make shots and made a habit of turning the ball over.
“We were poor all the way around,” Dunphy said. “Somehow we just found a way to win the game, but I don’t think there were a lot of positive words to be said at the end of the first half.”
After starting the second half down 41-29, the Owls continued their funk, playing in a double-digit hole for most of the half. Their continued sloppy play had the Liacouras Center filled with groans and boos for much of the night. When the outlook of any type of comeback looked bleak, the Owls finally caught a break in the form of George Washington senior guard Tony Taylor fouling out with 5:43 left on the clock.
Temple came out re-energized, and began their 10-point comeback when Wyatt drove down the lane and converted a layup. He then proceeded to steal the ball back on the ensuing George Washington possession and hit a jumper to put Temple within six.
“I tried not to let [not starting] affect me, but I think it did early on,” Wyatt said. “As I got out there, my teammates were encouraging me, so I put it behind me and just tried to win.”
A three-point shot by junior guard TJ DiLeo pulled Temple within four at 69-65. He then followed it up a minute later by swiping the ball from George Washington graduate forward Jabari Edwards and giving it off to Wyatt, who promptly drained a deuce to pull Temple within one at 69-68.
The comeback was capped when redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore drained a three-pointer, putting the Owls in the lead for good at 71-69.
Moore led all scorers with 25 points. The reigning A-10 Player of the Week has led Temple in scoring in each of the last seven games.
“The strategy was to come in, get a stop on each possession, chip down on the lead and toward the end I think that’s what we did,” Moore said.”
“We just made a couple of huge shots,” Dunphy added. “[DiLeo’s] shot was huge. [Moore’s] shot was huge. Those types of plays increase the stress level for the other team and get them out of sorts.”
Although multiple players chipped in on the comeback, the big post-game story was that of Wyatt, who was late to a study-hall session but came through in the clutch.
“[Wyatt] had the mistaken impression that his time was more valuable than others, but there’s not a malicious bone in his body.” Dunphy said. “He just sometimes gets a little bit off page, but he came through for us in the end.”
“He figured it out,” Dunphy added. “Life’s interesting like that. You don’t think you should take your medicine early, then you take your medicine and life works out for you. He did nothing wrong necessarily other than thinking about him first other than the team, yet he was there for us when we needed him.”
The Owls are in first place in the A-10 with an in-conference record of 7-2. Temple has won its past six conference games after losing two of its first three. The Owls will face a big A-10 test on Saturday night at home in a game broadcast on ESPN2 against Xavier.
“The Xavier game is going to be a great atmosphere,” Moore said. “The crowd is going to be into it and it’s a TV game. We have to come out prepared. If we come out like we did tonight, I think it will be a different result.”
Drew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.