Published January 13, 2015
VCU's smashing Atlantic 10 debut ended without a regular-season championship.
Khalif Wyatt scored 30 points and Jake O'Brien had 19, and Temple beat No. 21 VCU 84-76 on Sunday after rallying from a 16-point first-half deficit.
With a win, VCU (24-7, 12-4 A-10) would have shared the regular-season conference crown with Saint Louis. VCU is the No. 2 seed in the A-10 tournament.
The Rams were on the brink of a championship in their first season in the league after bolting the Colonial Athletic Association.
"Nobody transitions from a smaller league to a bigger league and wins the league in the first year," coach Shaka Smart said. "This is why. You've got to win games like today. We just didn't do what it took to win."
The Rams did for the first 16 minutes of the game, a stretch that included baskets on eight straight possessions and flawless 3-point shooting. On senior day, the Rams just couldn't sustain that level against a Temple team determined to leave the conference a winner.
Juvonte Reddic led the Rams with 20 points, and Treveon Graham had 17.
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.
"We didn't panic," Wyatt said. "We just stayed under control and tried to control the pace of the game."
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.
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.
"Maybe we got comfortable," VCU guard Darius Theus said. "Maybe just a little bit."
The Rams had "Havoc" printed on the back of their warmup shirts, and that's exactly what they created at the start. 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 Temple slice the deficit to 41-36 at halftime.
Smart said he's left trying to figure out why the Rams lost their "fire" after halftime, especially with first place at stake.
"Let's call it like it is: Temple wanted this game really, really bad," Smart said.