Sweet Victory

Like it or not, the storyline heading into Temple's NCAA Tournament opener against North Carolina State wasn't Khalif Wyatt, or the five Owl seniors, or the program's sixth straight tournament appearance. No, it was all about Coach Fran Dunphy. Specifically, Dunphy's 2-14 record in the NCAAs – including a 1-5 record on North Broad Street. Consider the narrative changed.

DAYTON, Ohio – Like it or not, the storyline heading into Temple's NCAA Tournament opener against North Carolina State wasn't Khalif Wyatt, or the five Owl seniors, or the program's sixth straight tournament appearance.

No, it was all about Coach Fran Dunphy. Specifically, Dunphy's 2-14 record in the NCAAs – including a 1-5 record on North Broad Street.

Consider the narrative changed.

The Owls played "as good as we could play" – Dunphy's words – in the first half, and Wyatt nailed 9 of 10 free throws in the last four minutes to secure a 76-72 victory over the Wolfpack on Friday afternoon at UD Arena.

Wyatt totaled 31 points, five assists, and three steals, including 20 of Temple's 38 points in the second half. But it was the first half when Wyatt really controlled the game, drawing enough defensive attention to create wide open shots for Jake O'Brien, who sank three three-pointers on the way to a team-high 13 points at the break.

Between O'Brien's shooting, Wyatt's dominating, and the Wolfpack committing 10 turnovers, the Owls rolled to a 38-22 halftime lead.

It was N.C. State's second-lowest first half scoring output this season.

For Temple, the key was Will Cummings and T.J. Dileo giving senior sharpshooter Scott Wood no room to shoot the ball. Coming into the game, Wood had converted 102 three-pointers this season, shooting them at a 44.3 percent clip. But you can't score if you can't get the ball.

Against the Owls, Wood went scoreless – with three missed jumpers – in the first half.

The Wolfpack got most of their points from star forward C.J. Leslie, who mixed a few spectacular plays with a few too many missed free throws. N.C. State had the rebounding advantage and scored a bunch in the paint, but not enough to make a difference in the outcome.

Temple pushed its lead to 47-30 in the opening minutes of the second half – on O'Brien's fourth, and last, three-pointer. He hit that bucket – or O'Bucket, if you prefer – just after Wyatt left the game with an injured left thumb.

"It was a little jammed thumb," Wyatt said afterward.

One of the great off-camera scenes of the game came in the ensuing TV timeout. While the Owls huddled up on their side of the floor, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried and top assistant Bobby Lutz spent 30 seconds peeking out of their coaches' huddle, trying to see if Wyatt was coming back in the game. Finally, three N.C. State managers walked to midcourt to get a better look and they signaled back to Gottfried – Wyatt was not coming back on the floor – yet.

Wyatt sat on the bench for two minutes, then re-entered just as N.C. State was revving up its fastbreak behind junior point guard Lorenzo Brown, who finished with 22 points and nine assists.

The Wolfpack went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 47-39 with 13:17 to go. Then the teams pretty much traded baskets for the next several minutes. The Owls appeared to be in great shape when Wyatt hit his one and only three-pointer of the contest, giving the team a 62-51 lead with 4:40 remaining.

On the next possession, Leslie lost the ball, and it pitter-pattered behind Wyatt, who was too busy watching and defending Brown – yeah, you read that right – to notice the opportunity for a clean steal. Instead, Leslie retrieved the rock and tossed in a three-pointer – only his second successful three-pointer this season – to get his team within eight.

The last four minutes were all about fundamentals.

The Owls never turned the ball over against N.C. State's pressure. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Scootie Randall missed some free throws, and they made some free throws. DiLeo made two big free throws.

But Wood also broke free for a pair of three-pointers and Brown kept getting to the hole and finishing – the Wolfpack shot 70 percent from the floor in the second half – and eventually they got the ball with less than two minutes left, trailing 65-62, with a chance to tie the game.

Brown missed the game-tying three-point attempt.

In the final minute, Wyatt took another hit on his thumb, but made a pair of free throws before leaving the floor one more time. Then he came back in to sink the last four free throws.

It was a great win for the Owls (24-9), who will face top-seeded Indiana on Sunday for the right to go to the Sweet 16.

But it was an even greater win for Dunphy, whose career can no longer be summed up as, "He's a great coach, but he can't win in the ..."

Oh yes, he can.

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