For the fourth year in a row, Temple fans stormed the court in celebration of their team’s upset against a Top-10 program.
Following defeats of No. 8/8 Tennessee in 2008, No. 3/3 Villanova in 2009 and No. 9/10 Georgetown last year, the Owls stunned the No. 3/5 Duke Blue Devils at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night with a 78-73 victory.
“I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet,” redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore said. “It was a great win and some guys really stepped up to help us get over the hump. It just feels great.”
Owls’ junior guard Khalif Wyatt led all scorers with 22 points and added five steals. At one point around the four-minute mark, Wyatt hit back to back threes that extended the Owls’ lead from three to nine, creating a cushion that Duke wouldn’t be able to overcome.
“Tonight just happened,” Wyatt said. “I was making shots. My teammates trusted me. I just kept coming through for them.”
Wyatt’s performance was typical of a Temple player in these kinds of games during the past four years.
In the 2008 win against Tennessee, Owls’ guard Dionte Christmas hit seven threes and scored 35 points. Now a senior, guard Juan Fernandez put up a similar performance against Villanova in his sophomore season. He hit seven threes of his own and scored 33 points. Last season versus Georgetown, Moore took over in the
second half and scored a then career high 30 points in the Owls’ upset.
As Wyatt scored eight points in the final five minutes of this game against Duke, he joined the company of some of Temple’s finest players of the past five years.
“My teammates trusted me,” Wyatt said. “I wanted to come through for them…and I did.”
Though Fernandez and Moore have proven themselves reliable in Temple’s previous upsets of Top-10 programs, the team feels comfortable with the ball in the hands of any of their three starting guards in crucial situations.
“[Wyatt] has huge courage,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He just has no fear. I think that’s what you need in a game like this.”
“Whoever has it going, we put the ball it that person’s hands,” Moore added.
Playing on a national stage in a game broadcast on ESPN 2, the Owls outshot and outrebounded the Blue Devils, who came into the game scoring the sixth-most points per game in the country and averaging a shooting percentage of better than 50 percent.
Dunphy said the perimeter defense of Temple’s trio of guards was just as important as their prowess on offense.
“We wanted to take away the three and try to run them off the three-point line a little bit,” Dunphy said. “When you can win a game like this, everybody has to play well and you have to get a little lucky, and I think we did that.”
“I think there was only one way we could win, and that is to manage the game and have those three guys [in control],” Dunphy added. “They’re pretty good basketball players and they’re going to be able to make good decisions with the ball.”
Temple did all of this without two of their regular starters. Graduate center Micheal Eric is out indefinitely with an injured right kneecap, and senior forward Scootie Randall may miss the entire season while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
But just as Temple fans celebrated after the game on the home court of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, Temple can celebrate the fact that the injury-plagued Owls upset one of the most lauded programs in college basketball due to their depth at guard and an outstanding late-game performance by an unlikely star.
“[Duke] is an incredible basketball program and for us to come out on top tonight is very, very nice for a lot of people,” Dunphy said. “We’re thrilled to be standing here as winners tonight.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.