Phil Sheridan: Temple's Khalif Wyatt steps up big in NCAA win

Khalif Wyatt reacts after injuring his left thumb. He later returned and finished with 31 points.
Khalif Wyatt reacts after injuring his left thumb. He later returned and finished with 31 points. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: March 24, 2013

DAYTON, Ohio - Fran Dunphy couldn't quite figure it out. His Temple basketball team had just hung on for a program-energizing NCAA tournament win over North Carolina State, and many of the questions seemed to be about Khalif Wyatt's thumb.

The senior guard jammed his left thumb during the second half and had to come out for a couple of minutes. The athletic training staff wrapped the thumb and Wyatt returned to the floor.

Was Dunphy worried? Did he think Temple could have withstood the Wolfpack's frenetic comeback charge without Wyatt? How nervous was he when Wyatt motioned that he needed to come out?

In truth, it never occurred to Dunphy that Wyatt would do anything but return to the game. A sore thumb wouldn't keep the competitive Wyatt out of a pickup game. This was the NCAA tournament.

"It was his left hand," Dunphy said. "With this kid, I think you could have tied it behind his back and he would find a way to finish the game."

And Wyatt did just that. He finished the game, controlling the tempo and making free throws and simply refusing to allow N.C. State to complete its comeback.

It's a team game and Temple played well, especially in the first half. But the Owls won this game because of Khalif Wyatt and everybody knew it.

What nobody really knew was exactly how he did it.

"He's really crafty," N.C. State senior Scott Wood said.

That's one good word. Tough - there's another. Wyatt is the latest in a long line of savvy, unflappable Philadelphia guards. Time after time, he'd just take the ball and go, winding through the Wolfpack's quick, tall defenders. He'd get to the basket for a score or he'd get fouled. Didn't matter. Somehow, someway, he kept putting points on the board - 31 in all.

"I've been watching him for four years and I don't know how he does it, either," Dunphy said. "He's got size, he's got length, he's as smart as it gets on the court. He typically makes great decisions."

Wyatt shot 14 free throws. He made 12. Temple won by 4.

"I think making them is one thing," Dunphy said. "His ability to get them is really the extraordinary part to his game. He's got great body control, and he knows how to lean in to get shots off but also to draw those fouls."

Wyatt's favorite player of all time? Allen Iverson. That's probably not surprising, given AI's dominance while Wyatt was growing up in Norristown. Iverson is tiny and quick. He couldn't be much different physically from the 6-foot-4 Wyatt.

"He just played hard," Wyatt said. "He left it all out there. He was an offensive talent. That's who I watched growing up."

That's where the similarity is. Wyatt drives fearlessly toward the basket, knowing he's going to get pounded even if he doesn't quite know what he's going to do with the ball until the last moment.

"I don't know how many other folks were recruiting him," Dunphy said. "He had such an unusual game. I think everybody looked at the lack of speed. But to me, as I watched him, his uniqueness was just extraordinary. He can get to places where somebody with a lot more speed can't get because he knows the game so well. I don't know that you can count him out at the next level."

Wyatt said he developed his game mostly by watching "a lot of basketball."

"I watch everybody," Wyatt said. "Tyreke Evans and Scoop Jardine, they were my two favorite guards in high school. I would be at home in Norristown, trying to be Tyreke Evans and Scoop Jardine."

He earned himself a place in the long tradition of Philly guards Friday.

"There's just a certain type of competitiveness that guys in that area have," Wyatt said. "There's a little chip. Philly guards are well-respected."

Temple has a few. Scootie Randall and T.J. DiLeo didn't put up big numbers Friday, but both were poised and steady whenever they had the ball. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson is a forward, but he handles the ball like a guard.

But this game belonged to Wyatt. He was the best player on the floor. You could even say he stuck out like a sore thumb.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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