No. 23 Temple outlasts UMass 90-88 in OT

By Dan Gelston
AP Basketball Writer / February 29, 2012
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PHILADELPHIA—Temple is too busy piling up wins in the Atlantic 10 to worry about a possible future in the Big East.

If this is the end of the road for one of the conference's signature teams, the Owls are going out on top.

Khalif Wyatt scored 26 points, including the winning layup in the final seconds of overtime, to help No. 23 Temple beat Massachusetts 90-88 on Wednesday night and clinch the top seed in next week's Atlantic 10 tournament.

The Owls (23-6, 12-3) also clinched a tie for the regular-season conference title, though they hold the tiebreaker over Saint Louis. Micheal Eric had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Juan Fernandez scored 18 points for Temple.

The Owls blew a 10-point lead over the final 2 1/2 minutes of regulation and saw UMass score the first six points of overtime.

Temple had enough to rally thanks to Wyatt and a huge edge at the free throw line. The Owls made 30 of 40 attempts while UMass was 6 of 10. But Temple started misfiring from the line in the final minutes of regulation and overtime.

Wyatt bailed out the Owls, scoring the last seven points of overtime.

"I hope that we're a team that finds a way," coach Fran Dunphy said. "You do get a little crazed when you're sitting there saying, `How are we going to figure this one out?'"

Chaz Williams led the Minutemen (19-10, 8-7) with 26 points and 11 assists, while Terrell Vinson and Raphiael Putney both had 16 points. UMass finished 12 of 24 from 3-point range while the Owls went 6 of 21.

"Hopefully, that's a learning lesson for our young guys in how to close out a game and win out a game in overtime," Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg said. "It would have been a huge win for our program but we weren't able to pull it out."

After UMass scored the first six points of overtime, Temple pulled within one and had a chance to take the lead. But Eric missed two free throws with 1:39 left.

Wyatt, who had only four field goals, made up for it when he was fouled on a hard layup and made the tying free throw with 58 seconds left. He delivered the winner on a fastbreak layup that had the crowd in a frenzy and allowed the Owls to escape in their home finale.

"I just had to focus and finish it," Wyatt said.

The Owls might be celebrating their last A-10 title. Temple and the Big East are talking about the Owls rejoining the conference as soon as next season. The Temple board of trustees canceled a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, though some of the members participated in a conference call.

Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw had declined in-depth comment on the program's future.

"Every decision will be based on what's best for Temple University and our student-athletes," he said before the game.

Temple had the game in control until Freddie Riley hit two 3s in the final 70 seconds of regulation to slice the lead to 79-78 with 40 seconds left. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson missed two free throws for Temple, though the Owls snagged the loose ball rebound. Wyatt, who made his first 13 free throws, made one of two from the line with 35 seconds left.

Putney's layup tied the game at 80-all with just less than 30 seconds left.

Fernandez and Ramone Moore, who scored 13 points, both got blocked on the final possession to send the game to overtime.

"I can't say we were really tough and nasty down the stretch," Dunphy said. "We made some really bonehead plays. We just kind of got lucky."

Led by Dunphy, the Owls head to Atlantic City, N.J., as the team to beat for the championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Owls bounced back from a rare loss to Saint Louis to win for the 12th time in 13 games. The Owls would clinch the outright A-10 title with a win Saturday at Fordham. Temple hasn't won the outright title since 2000 -- though it won three straight conference tournaments under Dunphy from 2008-2010.

"Hopefully, the momentum carries into Saturday when we've got a chance to lock up the regular-season championship," Wyatt said.

The Owls couldn't shake the Minutemen all game. They finally stretched the score when Moore and Fernandez hit consecutive 3s to give the Owls the lead late in the second half. Kellogg, pounding the scorer's table most of the game, was whistled for a technical foul and Wyatt made two free throws for a 63-58 lead.

Riley's first baskets of the game -- those critical 3s -- closed the gap in a hurry.

UMass shot 52 percent from the field in the second half.

Vinson scored 14 points in the first half and the Minutemen shot 46 percent from the field to lead 37-32.

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