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Temple takes down VCU, moves closer to NCAA berth

The SportsXchange

PHILADELPHIA -- Mark it down: Temple's headed back to March Madness.

Even if the Owls won't admit it yet.

Khalif Wyatt scored a game-high 30 points as Temple picked up its third win over a ranked team this season, storming back from a big early deficit to beat No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth 84-76 in the Atlantic 10 Conference's regular-season finale.

Temple (23-8, 11-5) broke the game open with under seven minutes to play when Scootie Randall and Wyatt hit 3-pointers 11 seconds apart -- sandwiched around a Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson steal -- to turn a six-point advantage into a 68-56 lead with 6:31 remaining.

Jake O'Brien tied it at 46 with a 3-pointer with 15:50 remaining, the first tie since it was 12-12 six minutes into the game. Another O'Brien 3-pointer a little more than a minute later put Temple on top, and the Owls' momentum snowballed from there to their seventh straight victory.

"We had an up-and-down year all year, (but) the last six or seven games we just came together and we've been playing for one another," Wyatt said. "We're just having fun, really, and trying to go out there and get wins as a team."

VCU coach Shaka Smart said, "I thought Temple played great today. Their seniors led the way and they did what really good seniors do on Senior Day. Even when we got a lead, they didn't get rattled, they battled back and made big shots, got big rebounds."

Temple's five seniors -- Wyatt, Randall, O'Brien, T.J. DiLeo and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson -- played a combined 155 of a 200 possible minutes and scored 71 points. O'Brien had 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field (5 of 8 on 3-pointers), and Randall and sophomore Will Cummings chipped in 13 apiece.

The win most likely locks up an NCAA Tournament at-large berth for Temple, which already had a neutral-court win over then-No. 3 Syracuse and road victories at Saint Louis and Villanova on the resumé. It also locked up the No. 3 seed in next weekend's Atlantic 10 tournament and a bye into the quarterfinals on Friday.

"They had a lot on the line -- Senior Day, NCAA tournament talk, a bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament -- and they played with that level of urgency and we did not match that level of urgency, which is extremely disappointing," Smart said.

Smart's counterpart, Fran Dunphy, wasn't willing to bite on talk of whether or not his team deserved to be playing in the NCAA tournament with Selection Sunday just a week away.

"Our job is not nearly done," Dunphy said. "We need to win games and that's what we're thinking about, so we won't have any discussion about any of that over the next couple of days.

"It's totally for somebody else to decide."

The Owls trailed by as many as 16 early but pulled to within five points at the half on the shoulders of Wyatt, the odds-on favorite to win Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. A 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Wyatt put on yet another electric performance in his final home game, hitting 8 of 18 shots from the floor and 13 of 16 free throws.

Juvonte Reddic lead Virginia Commonwealth (24-7, 12-4) with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Treveon Graham added 17 points and Melvin Johnson chipped in 13 off the bench. The Rams came into the game the best team in the country at forcing turnovers but actually turned it over one more time than the Owls, 14 to 13.

After Temple opened the game by jumping out to a nine-point lead, VCU's "Havoc" defense started to kick in. Spurred by the Owls' first three turnovers of the game, the Rams went on a 22-2 run to lead 24-14 with 9:55 remaining before the half.

"That stretch in the first half ... we got rocked a little bit, we got punched right in the forehead," Dunphy said. "But we just talked about the fact that they've made their run now and I feel good about where we were. I felt like we had a chance to gather ourselves, and we made some big shots."

VCU came into the game as the seventh-best 3-point shooting team in the A-10 at 35.0 percent but hit all six of its attempts in the first half. However, they made only 2 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second half.

NOTES: Temple was the fourth A-10 team that VCU faced for the first time ever this season (Fordham, Duquesne, UMass). The Rams were 3-0 in those games. ... VCU has 42 road/neutral-court wins in the last two years, the second-highest mark in the country in that span (Kansas, 45). ... O'Brien, a Boston University transfer playing his only season at Temple, has scored in double figures in seven straight games. ... The win was Temple's 14th in the Liacouras Center this year, tying the school record for wins in a season.
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