Doing it Khalif Wyatt's way

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Khalif Wyatt's plan for game against NC State: 'Don't get out of character. Don't try to force too many shots, and just let the game come to me. That's the main thing.'
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Khalif Wyatt's plan for game against NC State: 'Don't get out of character. Don't try to force too many shots, and just let the game come to me. That's the main thing.'
Posted: March 22, 2013

DAYTON, Ohio - If great players are defined by their performances on the biggest stage, Friday night is the biggest night of Khalif Wyatt's basketball life.

Yes, Wyatt played in NCAA Tournament games each of his first three seasons.

But he has never been Temple's best player, with 19.8 points and 4.1 assists per game. He has never been the Big 5 and Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. He never has been the face of frustration.

Before this season, Wyatt was just a part of the fabric of failure, an ever larger piece of the Owls' 1-5 tournament record since Fran Dunphy took over the program seven seasons ago. That includes two losses as a No. 5 seed in their tournament opener; in 2010 to Cornell, and, last year, to South Florida.

Now a ninth seed facing No. 8 North Carolina State and everybody's favorite to lose quickly, Temple and Dunphy grimly stare at a game that will further define their profile. For Wyatt, it is a game that will cement his legacy.

A win Friday, and maybe another on Sunday against likely foe Indiana, and Wyatt will be revered, like Macon and McKie.

A loss Friday and Wyatt will become a pleasant footnote in Temple history.

"Friday could very well be [my] last game. We want to go out there and make sure you don't have any regrets at the end of the day," Wyatt said. "Whether you score a lot of points or you don't, you just want to make sure that you left it all out there and that you did the most that you could to try to get your team a win."

He has been equal to the task before.

Wyatt scored 33 points when the Owls upset then-No. 3 Syracuse in December. He drained a game-winning three-pointer at Dayton last month, his six three-pointers against Massachusetts two games later, then took over the second half against La Salle to secure Temple a share of the Big 5 title.

He dropped 30 in an upset of Virginia Commonwealth on March 10, a win that served the Owls well . . . especially since they gave away a couple of seeding slots 5 days later, when UMass beat them in their first A-10 Tournament game.

Wyatt went 4-for-19 from the field and missed nine of 11 three-pointers.

Wyatt was named A-10 Player of the Year 3 days prior.

Can you say, letdown?

"Now, you could look at his line last week against UMass and say he didn't shoot it very well, but still found a way to put almost 20 points on the board for us," Dunphy said. "He's a unique talent. Yeah, it wasn't his best performance."

NC State has a weapon that specializes in coercing subpar performances.

Junior point guard Lorenzo Brown, a 6-6 defensive stopper, will present to Wyatt a combination of size and experience he seldom has seen this season. Brown limited Erick Green of Virginia Tech, who leads the nation at 25.0 points per game, to 15 points on five of 19 shooting at the ACC Tournament last week, Green's second-lowest output this season.

"He's probably one of the craftiest guys I've seen this year," Brown said of Wyatt "My main goal, when I'm guarding him, is to keep him out of the paint. Once he gets in the paint, he draws fouls."

Indeed, only two guards in the NCAA Tournament get to the free-throw line more frequently than Wyatt . . . but then, seldom does Wyatt, at 6-4 and 215 pounds, face a team as well-equipped to handle him.

"Lorenzo can definitely do a great job on him, but at the same time, whenever we have the opportunity to, we're definitely going to help him," said 6-8 forward Richard Howell. "He's a big point guard, especially when he gets down in the paint, like Lorenzo says. So it's going to be a team effort against him."

Wyatt has seen this sort of scheme before.

"Teams are definitely trying to stop me from scoring the ball, but it's just about going out there and just letting the game come to me. Don't get out of character. Don't try to force too many shots, and just let the game come to me. That's the main thing."

The game NC State seems willing to give to Wyatt begins at 20 feet, 9 inches.

Wyatt has made just four of 23 three-pointers (17.4 percent) in his last seven games. After two seasons of long-range respectability, shooting a combined 39.8 percent as a sophomore and junior, he has dropped to 32.6 percent this season.

With NBA scouts watching, with the weight of the team on his shoulders, with teammate Scootie Randall even less dependable, Wyatt's season - his stamp as a premier Temple player - will be enhanced or eroded Friday.

"I absolutely believe that he's going to be ready to go and show that he loves the spotlight," Dunphy said.

Maybe the spotlight will love Wyatt. It has before.

"I really can't explain it," he said. "I just really want to go out there and just seize the opportunity. You're on a national stage, and a lot of people are watching, and you get a chance to show the world what you can do. You don't get chances like that very often."

If Wyatt doesn't play well Friday night, he won't have another chance like this at all.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

 

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