Coming off an upset loss to Canisius Wednesday, Temple had little rest before it walked into Madison Square Garden Saturday against No. 3 Syracuse.
And with an overwhelming majority of Syracuse fans in attendance, Temple used smart basketball to grind out a win over the Orange, 83-79, in Manhattan.
Khalif Wyatt scored a career-high 33 points, including 20 in the first half, then also worked to facilitate scoring for his teammates for much of the second half. The biggest beneficiary of that was Anthony Lee, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Lee’s presence on the block against the No. 4 rebounding team in the country was key, pushing for position and fighting for six offensive rebounds, which afforded Temple important ball-control and second-chance opportunities.
Aside from Wyatt, the Owls struggled in the first half. While Wyatt scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, the rest of the team scored just 18 on 5-of-17 from the floor.
Temple attacked the patented Syracuse zone by working the ball into the middle and on the baseline, then working it back to the outside for open shots on the perimeter.
When trailing by 10 with 9:34 remaining in the first half, two threes by transfer Jake O’Brien spurred a 10-2 run that put the Owls back into the game.
Temple then started the second half on a 12-2 run, growing its lead to as many as seven points in the first ten minutes of the second half.
At that point, though, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim implemented a full-court press that clearly made Temple uncomfortable, increasing the pace and allowing the Orange to tie the game at 59 with 10:18 remaining.
Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams scored his first field goal of the game during that stretch, a layup with 15:16 remaining. He struggled offensively and from the free throw line on the game with 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting and 7-of-15 from the free throw line.
He picked up his fourth foul with 5:48 remaining, which forced him to play cautiously in a key stretch of the second half.
C.J. Fair and Brandon Triche were the two engines behind the Syracuse offense Saturday with Carter-Williams’ lull. Fair finished with 25 points and Triche had 17.
Temple became more comfortable with the Syracuse pressure after the nine-minute mark, going on an 11-3 run to expand the lead to eight points.
Fair struck again late in the second half, hitting a three from the corner to pull Syracuse within one possession with 3:07 to play.
Although Syracuse pulled within one point, 74-73, late in the second half, Temple never relinquished the lead.
The loss snaps Syracuse’s 52-game regular season, non-conference winning streak.