DAYTON, Ohio – March Madness stirs a variety of emotions, and Temple made sure its fans experienced all of them on Friday afternoon. After senior Khalif Wyatt paced the Owls to a sizable lead in their NCAA tournament opener against North Carolina State, No. 9-seeded Temple survived a late scare to top the No. 8 Wolfpack, 76-72, at University of Dayton Arena.
“We had just enough to survive and move on,” Temple Coach Fran Dunphy said.
Wyatt and Jake O’Brien combined for 49 points, and the Owls advanced to face the winner of the Friday’s later game between No. 16 James Madison and No. 1 Indiana on Sunday. Wyatt, the Atlantic 10 player of the year and one of the nation’s most prolific scorers, finished with a game-high 31 points and five assists.
Temple led by 16 points but watched as N.C. State slowly ate away at its advantage, buoyed by a pair of late three-pointers from senior Scott Wood. The sharp-shooting Wolfpack, however, missed a couple of late three-point attempts and were sent home early, just one year after reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed.
It was just the third NCAA tournament win for Dunphy, who is making his 15th NCAA tournament appearance as a head coach.
“The whole game was nerve-racking,” Dunphy said. “You knew it was going to come down to the end. N.C. State is too powerful of a team to let it be easy.”
Despite a sluggish start, N.C. State managed to tie the score at 15 midway through the first half, but the Owls put together an 18-3 run over the next six minutes to pull ahead.
Dunphy said the Owls opening half was “about as good as we could play.” At the break, O’Brien and Wyatt had combined for more points (24) than the entire Wolfpack roster (22). And N.C. State reserve Rodney Purvis alone matched Temple’s turnovers (three). In all, the Wolfpack turned the ball over 10 times in the opening half, resulting in 15 Temple points.
“We just didn’t guard them for 40 minutes,” Wolfpack Coach Mark Gottfried said. “It’s that simple.”
In the second half, N.C. State’s offense began showing signs of life, stringing together a 9-0 run, bringing the Wolfpark crowd to its feet and cutting the Owls’ lead to 47-39 with 13 minutes 8 seconds remaining.
The Wolfpack slowly chipped away and Wood hit a three-pointer from the corner with just 3:33 remaining to cut the Temple lead to only five, 62-57. After Temple hit 1 of 2 free throw attempts, Wood raced back and hit another trey from the opposite corner, making it a 63-60 game with 3:10 remaining.
Temple kept sending the Wolfpack to the free throw line, and N.C. State struggled to close the gap. Lorenzo Brown’s bucket from the top of the key with two seconds remaining made it a two-point game, and the Wolfpack quickly fouled Wyatt on the inbounds play.
Though the Owls managed only eight second-half field goals, they visited the free throw line 33 times for the game. Wyatt was 12 of 14 from the line, and that’s where he scored the game’s final points.
“The N.C. State guys were talking a bit,” Wyatt said. “Just had to block it out and come through for my teammates.”
Wyatt aggravated a thumb injury early in the second half and finished the game playing through pain. Still, Gottfried said it was clear which player on the court was dictating the tempo Friday.
“We’ve played against really good guards this year. . . . Khalif Wyatt is as good or better than all of them,” the Wolfpack coach said. “He controls the tempo, doesn’t turn the ball over and plays like a senior.”
Wood, the N.C. State senior, was more succinct: “He’s what makes them go.”
Brown led the Wolfpack with 22 points, while C.J. Leslie added 20. Wood, who was scoreless in the first half, finished the game with 10 points.
Photos: Scenes from Round 1