Just like we all expected, Temple split a pair of games against Upstate New York schools this week.
How the Owls did it, however, is a huge surprise.
Three days after suffering a shocking home loss against lightly regarded Canisius, Temple bounced back by handing previously undefeated third-ranked Syracuse an 83-79 loss in front of a pro-Orange crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Khalif Wyatt will get the headlines because of his masterful 33-point performance, but the truth is no single person was responsible for this victory. The Owls out-hustled Syracuse to loose balls, grabbed 19 offensive boards and shredded Jim Boeheim's trademark two-three zone by getting the ball to the high post and exploiting high-low opportunities or kicking out for open 3-pointers.
The upset victory marks the fifth straight year Temple has beaten a top 10 team and sends a warning to the rest of the Atlantic 10 that the Owls (9-2) will once again be a contender in their final year in the league.
Many viewed Temple as a notch below the likes of VCU or Butler since the Owls hadn't beaten anyone notable prior to Saturday and were only days removed from blowing an eight-point halftime lead against Canisius. With Wyatt performing like an Atlantic 10 player of the year candidate, Scootie Randall emerging from his shooting slump and Anthony Lee providing an interior complement, Temple again looks dangerous.
Wyatt led the way Saturday by spearheading the Temple attack, sinking 8 of 17 shots from the floor and all 15 of his free throws. Lee scored 21 points and he and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson repeatedly out-maneuvered Syracuse's big men to chase down offensive boards and get Temple an extra possession.
If the outcome is a reminder Temple cannot be dismissed, it's also a sign Syracuse has some vulnerabilities.
Syracuse made only 19 of 34 free throws, lacked sufficient effort for long stretches of the game and too often resorted to one-on-one forays to the rim instead of patient team-first basketball. Michael Carter-Williams had an especially poor game, sinking only 3 of 15 shots and 7 of 15 free throws and struggling at the defensive end.
Despite all that, the Orange still had a real chance to win in the closing minutes. Brandon Triche missed the potential go-ahead corner 3-pointer with 1:05 remaining and Carter-Williams made an ill-advised decision to attack the rim after getting the offensive rebound, leading to a contested runner that never had a chance.
Temple made its next six free throws to regain control of the game and finish off the upset.
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