Chris Johnson is an RTC Correspondent. He was at Madison Square Garden for Temple’s 83-79 victory over Syracuse. You can follow him @ChrisDJohnsonn.
If Jim Boeheim’s 900th career victory was a nervous frenzy, the next game was a stroke of unfamiliarity. Over 50 times Syracuse played a non-conference game, and over 50 times Syracuse won. On Saturday, the Orange met their match in soon-to-be Big East member Temple. It was an upset insofar as Syracuse’s No. 3 ranking denotes national standing, and Temple’s unranked status confers inferiority. More shocking was the fact that Temple was itself upended by Canisius at home just three days prior.
The odds were stacked high against Fran Dunphy’s Owls – not just in the broader historical context of Syracuse’s non-conference success (not to mention its overwhelming home court advantage in the building ‘Cuse fans deem “The Other Carrier Dome”), but also in relation to the event that directly preceded Saturday’s upset. As unsettling and eyebrow-raising as Wednesday’s home loss was, Temple needed that wake-up call to knock off the then-No. 3 Orange. “I don’t know if we would have won today if we didn’t lose Wednesday,” Dunphy said. “Wednesday catapulted us into today. We needed to learn a lesson.”
Lesson learned. Temple picked apart Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone with precise high-post flares, efficient floor spacing, and timely shooting. It was a textbook takedown of one of the best zone defenses in college basketball. And none of it would have been possible without the steady efforts of senior Khalif Wyatt. In the Canisius loss, Wyatt finished 6-of-16 from the field for 17 points, including 0-of-6 from three. Three days later, the senior had the game of his life, literally and figuratively. The box score paints a flattering statistical portrait: 33 points, 8-of-17 from the field, 15-of-15 from the free throw line. But to fully appreciate Wyatt’s performance, one must indulge in visual description.