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Saturday, December 22, 2012
On this day, Temple simply better

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Ah, the wake-up call, one of the most tired cliches in all of sport.

Team X plays lousy, loses, and one game later plays hard, wins, and there you have it -- ta-da, the wake-up call.

Such a pretty narrative you could put a holiday bow on it.

Fran Dunphy
Fran Dunphy's Temple team outplayed Syracuse across the board to pull off the upset.

Temple lost to Canisius in dispiriting fashion and lo and behold, three days later those same Owls upset No. 3 Syracuse 83-79.

Commence alarm bells ringing and gongs sounding.

Fran Dunphy said as much after the win, explaining, "I don't know if we would have won today if we hadn't lost on Wednesday. We got a little comeuppance against Canisius."

Surely a nice dose of humility never hurts anyone, but it wasn't like the Owls could have been strutting around like peacocks. They had, remember, already been humbled rather nicely by Duke.

So to say that the Owls merely woke up from some Sleeping Beauty slumber to beat Syracuse is to overlook a few key things, like the fact that Dunphy did a masterful job helping his team expose soft spots in what is currently a rather porous Syracuse zone; that the Owls opted to actually pass the ball and find the open man compared to the Orange's offense, which could be called "One-on-One Iso and Pray"; that Temple's best player played his best game and Syracuse's best player played perhaps his worst; and that Temple took the "free" part of free throws literally, while Syracuse treated the charity stripe like a penalty shot.

No, Temple didn't win because someone slipped smelling salts under the Owls' collective noses.

Temple won because it played a better basketball game than Syracuse.

"We know we're a good team," Anthony Lee said. "When we play like we're capable of, we think we can beat anyone."

Lee drove that point home with his own play against Syracuse. He dipped and dodged in the lane to pry open the zone for himself and his shooters. Using moves that even his coach didn't know he had, Lee all but eliminated what should have been an inside advantage for Syracuse, scoring 21 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

The Orange's inside trio of DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita combined had 16 points and 15 boards.

"Anthony had a challenge, and he really accepted that challenge," Dunphy said. "I remember one reverse layup, I still don't know how he made it. But you're not going to get a lot of shots at the basket because of their length. But he did a lot of different things to get himself some shots."

Khalif Wyatt
Khalif Wyatt found the right time to snap out of some shooting woes.

Khalif Wyatt did the rest. If the Owls collectively were disappointed in themselves after Canisius, Wyatt was nearly disgusted with himself.

In Temple's past five games he was 21-of-69, shooting just 30 percent.

Wyatt stopped short of calling his troubles a slump, instead arguing that he was taking bad shots, not simply making good ones.

"My teammates are counting on me to score and I let them down," he said. "It was just about confidence. My coach and my teammates, they just told me to stop thinking about it so much and to take the right shot."

More deliberate in his approach -- though Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim insisted everyone plays his team that way -- Wyatt scored a career-high 33 points, including a perfect 15-for-15 at the free throw line.

Boeheim laid most of the blame for his team's demise at the charity stripe, and they were woeful, leaving 15 points off the board with 19-of-34 shooting.

"You don't like to say it comes down to that but when you miss 15 free throws, it's going to be tough to win any games."

Fair point, but Syracuse's troubles extended beyond the free throw line.

Their defense, as Lee showed, isn't nearly impenetrable, and their offense was too content to stand around watching one guy on five.

Michael Carter-Williams, arguably the best pure point guard in the country, came into the game averaging 10.7 assists per game. Against the Owls, the Orange as a team only had 10 dishes.

Carter-Williams instead decided to try on his Dwyane Wade gear, opting for repeated drives to the hoop despite chronically diminishing returns.

He was 3-of-17 from the floor.

And despite all those misses, Syracuse only had 19 offensive rebounds.

"I think our biggest problem was we should have gotten more offensive rebounds," Boeheim said.

The Orange still are one of a collection of teams in the country that have all the pieces to do something big this season.

But like everyone in that collection of teams, Syracuse has things to work on.

The defense needs to tighten up a lot more, as evidenced here but also in its previous game. Lost in Boeheim's 900th win was the fact that Detroit all but erased a 20-point deficit, using a 16-0 run to make it a four-point game late.

The Orange don't have any one terrific shooter -- James Southerland is good but streaky and was nearly absent against the Owls' defense, with nine points on just six touches.

And their free throw shooting against the Owls wasn't an aberration. Syracuse is a measly 66 percent shooting team from the line.

The good news is, all that is fixable if Syracuse puts its mind to it.

So really, then, the question is simple: Will the Temple loss help get Syracuse in gear?

Will it be -- pardon the cliche -- the Orange's wake-up call?