Khalif Wyatt did it again.
After going scoreless in the first half, Wyatt scored 20 points after halftime, including 12 of the Temple’s final 14 points, in an 83-78 win over Detroit on Thursday night at the Liacouras Center.
“He’s an extraordinary player,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “And again as a coach, I got teeth marks like you can’t believe on my tongue after four years of watching this, but it’s Khalif.”
Wyatt entered halftime 0-6 from the floor for 0 points and was struggling mightily to score the rock all night long and things were looking bleak for Temple.
The Owls trailed 74-69, with just under 2 minutes to play, and after Detroit had carried a 9-point advantage into the locker room at halftime, the Titans had controlled most of the matchup.
Wyatt’s offensive production has been magnificent throughout the course of the 2012-13 campaign. The senior guard has shown the ability to score at will and knock down contested shots.
Although Wyatt has the tendency to make some decisions that make you scratch your head and clench your fists, the 6-4 guard from Norristown possesses something you simply can’t coach or teach — the characteristic of being clutch.
And Wyatt stepped up and came through in the games biggest stage yet again on Thursday night, scoring 12 of the teams last 14 points, all of which came in the last 120 seconds of the game.
Trailing 74-69, Wyatt weaved his way through the Detroit defense with a beautiful Euro-step and converted a layup in traffic to cut the Titans lead to 74-71, prompting coach Ray McCallum to call a timeout.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Temple guard T.J. DiLeo stole the inbounds pass, dished it to Wyatt who inexplicably pulled up and banked in a three to knot it at 74 with 1:42 remaining.
Thirty-eight seconds later with the game still tied at 74, Wyatt came off a Jake O’Brien pick and nailed an off balance three with a Detroit defender in his eye.
One of those shots that makes you shake your head, but when it goes in you sit down, shut up and admire the greatness.
“The play was me and Jake,” Wyatt said. “A pick and roll but I think he was just trying to play me up tight so I just tried to get some space and I just got some space and made the shot. If I would of missed it, coach (Dunphy) would have had a lot to say about it but he was happy I made it, I was happy I made it and my teammates were happy I made it. You gotta take shots to make shots so I just wanted to help my team.”
Wyatt would then knock down his next four free throw attempts to propel Temple to a clutch come-from-behind victory that kept alive its chances of an NCAA at-large bid.
“I had a rough first half offensively and defensively and my teammates did a great job of encouraging me and my coaches,” Wyatt said. “But me personally I’m thinking keep goin’, keep goin’, keep attacking, keep attacking try to make plays. I think I made plays for my teammates and I think down the stretch I just had enough courage to take some big shots and my teammates trusted and I’m just glad I could reward them.”
Wyatt may drive his coach crazy and has done so at times during his entire four year career, but his performances in crunch time are jaw dropping.
“(Khalif) absolutely drives you insane but you live with him because he can do some just extraordinary things,” Dunphy said.
As a team, Temple got another solid all-around performance on the offensive side of the floor, shooting 45.8 percent.
Aside from Wyatt’s 20 points, the Owls got 18 points from Scootie Randall, 16 points from O’Brien and 13 points and 12 rebounds from Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.
Randall continued his improving play, going 6-15 from the floor and knocked down four 3-pointers.
O’Brien defined the word efficient, going a perfect 6-6 from the field and hit multiple big buckets in the second half to keep Temple in it.
“(O’Brien) is such a solid offensive player. When he goes up to shoot the ball you think that it’s going in,” Dunphy said. “You feel very confident when he’s in the game on the offensive end and when he rises up to shoot a three you’re pretty confident that things going in.”
“He’s been doing the same thing all year just making shots, being consistent he’s probably been our most consistent shooter,” Wyatt said when asked about O’Brien’s performance. “Every time he’s out there he’s making shots, he’s getting shots and that’s just big for us. We need him and I’m just happy for him and happy for us.”
Hollis-Jefferson recorded his third double-double in four games.
Temple is starting to play its best basketball as the Owls enter the final stretch of the regular season and with four consecutive wins.
-Note: The Owls have reached 20 wins for the sixth straight season under Dunphy, tying a school record and will look for their 21st win of the season on Saturday vs. Rhode Island.
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