PHILADELPHIA --- On the way out of the Atlantic 10, Temple looked ready to take one more trophy as a keepsake.
Khalif Wyatt scored 30 points and Jake O'Brien had 19, and the Owls beat No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth 84-76 on Sunday after rallying from a big first-half deficit.
The Owls (23-8, 11-5 A-10) flipped a 16-point hole into a 17-point lead and clinched the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
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"We didn't panic," Wyatt said. "We just stayed under control and tried to control the pace of the game."
Wyatt made another strong case for A-10 Player of the Year honors while denying the Rams a conference title. With a win, VCU (24-7, 12-4) would have shared the A-10 crown with Saint Louis. VCU is the No. 2 seed.
Temple and VCU both earned first-round byes and will open play at the Barclays Center on Friday.
The Owls won their 376th regular-season game in the Atlantic 10 dating to the 1982-83 season. They're joining the football-playing members of the Big East.
Before they go, they have a nice parting gift in mind -- winning perhaps the deepest A-10 tourney in history.
"Hopefully, we can stick together and continue to play good basketball," Wyatt said.
O'Brien rallied the Owls back from the big first-half hole with clutch 3-pointers in transition that propelled them toward their seventh straight win. O'Brien tied the game at 46-46 on a 3, then gave the Owls the lead for good with another 3 to go up 51-48 with less than 15 minutes left.
The Owls took off from there, thrilling a sellout crowd of 10,206 with tough buckets inside, while O'Brien led the surge from outside. With Philadelphia 76ers general manager Tony DiLeo watching from press row, son T.J. DiLeo stretched the lead with two straight layups.
Temple built some needed breathing room in the span of about 10 seconds. Scootie Randall hit a 3-pointer, the Owls stole the inbound pass, and Wyatt hit a 3 off the quick turnover for a 68-56 lead with about 6½ minutes remaining. Will Cummings later fell on his backside after a 3 to help keep the Owls comfortably on top.
O'Brien, a transfer from Boston University, nailed one more big 3 for a 78-61 lead -- their largest of the game after trailing 38-22.
Coach Fran Dunphy called O'Brien "Jake O'Buckets" after his 5 for 8 effort on 3s against the Rams.
"Coach Dunphy emphasized playing with poise in any kind of situation," O'Brien said. "We've been in positions like that before. I think it helps to have a veteran group, guys that have been there before."
The Owls, with three seniors and two graduate students in the starting lineup, earned their second win against a ranked team this season. They beat then-No. 3 Syracuse in December.
Juvonte Reddic led the Rams with 20 points, and Treveon Graham had 17.
The Rams had "Havoc" printed on the back of their warmup shirts, and that's exactly what they created for the first 14 minutes. Relying on a full-court press and flawless 3-point shooting, VCU went on an early 18-0 run.
Rob Brandenberg's three-point play put VCU up 36-20 with just under 6 minutes left in the first half. The Rams made all six 3-point attempts in the half and shot 53 percent overall but couldn't put away the Owls. O'Brien and Randall each hit 3s to help the Owls slice to deficit to 41-36 at halftime.
VCU coach Shaka Smart said he's left trying to figure out why the Rams lost "their fire" after halftime, especially with first place at stake. The Rams were on the brink of sharing a championship in their first season in the A-10 after bolting the Colonial Athletic Association.
"Nobody transitions from a smaller league to a bigger league and wins the league in the first year," Smart said. "This is why. You've got to win games like today. We just didn't do what it took to win."
Temple honored former coach John Chaney and the 1987-88 team that hit No. 1 in the poll and advanced to the NCAA tournament regional final. Chaney received a standing ovation as he walked down the red carpet and hugged each one of his former players.
|Khalif Wyatt helps Temple overcome an early 16-point deficit, pouring in 30 points for the Owls. (USATSI)|
|Virginia Commonwealth #21 (24-7)||41||35||76|
|Temple (23-8) «||36||48||84|
|VCU:J. Reddic 20 Pts
VCU:J. Reddic 9 Reb
VCU:D. Theus 5 Ast
|TEMPLE:K. Wyatt 30 Pts
TEMPLE:S. Randall 9 Reb
TEMPLE:R. Hollis-Jefferson 5 Ast
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|PLAYERS OF THE GAME|
|Virginia Commonwealth Rams|
|D. Theus, G||34||3-5||2-2||3||5||3||9|
|T. Graham, G||33||5-16||7-7||7||5||3||17|
|J. Reddic, F||31||10-18||0-0||9||0||3||20|
|R. Brandenberg, G||22||3-9||1-1||2||2||3||9|
|T. Daniels, G||20||2-4||0-0||2||1||3||6|
|B. Weber, G||24||1-3||0-0||4||5||2||2|
|M. Johnson, G||19||5-8||0-0||0||0||2||13|
|J. Guest, F||12||0-0||0-0||2||0||2||0|
|D. Hinton, F||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|D. Haley, C||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|J. Tuoyo, F||1||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0|
|T. Okereafor, G||Did Not Play|
|M. Alie-Cox, F||Did Not Play|
|J. Burgess, G||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|S. Randall, G-F||37||4-7||2-2||9||1||0||13|
|R. Hollis-Jefferson, F||36||0-5||3-4||3||5||4||3|
|K. Wyatt, G||35||8-18||13-16||4||4||3||30|
|J. O'Brien, F||29||6-9||2-3||4||0||3||19|
|T. DiLeo, G||18||3-5||0-0||1||1||0||6|
|W. Cummings, G||28||3-4||6-6||4||5||1||13|
|A. Lee, F||12||0-3||0-0||2||0||2||0|
|Q. DeCosey, G||5||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0|
|D. Pepper, G||Did Not Play|
|J. McDonnell, F||Did Not Play|
|N. Pendergast, F||Did Not Play|
|D. Dingle, G-F||Did Not Play|
|D. Watson, F-C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|