Leading 38-22 at the half, East Region 9-seed Temple looked poised to put 8-seed N.C. State away with relative ease and pick up the program’s second NCAA tournament victory since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2001 (they beat Penn State in the 2011 tournament).
The Wolfpack would make things interesting in the second half, cutting Temple’s lead to two in the final seconds but they could not get over the hump. The end result is a 76-72 victory for the Owls, who will take on either top-seed Indiana or 16-seed James Madison on Sunday.
Khalif Wyatt scored 31 points (9-of-22 FG) and dished out five assists to lead Temple, but just as important were the 18 points scored by Jake O’Brien. O’Brien scored 13 of those points in the first half, with N.C. State failing on multiple occasions to identify the Boston University transfer.
Temple shot 53.3% in the first half, due to a combination of solid offensive execution and the Wolfpack’s defensive “indifference.”
N.C. State shot 70.4% from the field in the second half (55.8% for the game), with Scott Wood (ten points) finally getting going down the stretch after going scoreless in the first 20 minutes. Lorenzo Brown scored 22 points and handed out nine assist to lead the way offensively for N.C. State, with C.J. Leslie adding 20 points and Richard Howell posting a double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds).
But the Wolfpack’s lethargic start could not be overcome. And with that a season that began with such high expectations for Mark Gottfried’s team ends with a relative whimper, as the preseason pick to win the ACC heads home after just one NCAA tournament game.
As for Temple’s chances on Sunday (against in all likelihood Indiana), they’ll need to take care of the basketball as they did on Friday. Fran Dunphy’s team turned the ball over just five times, converting 13 N.C. State turnovers into 17 points. And getting outscored 48-24 as they did is something the Owls can’t afford to have happen against the Hoosiers.
But when you have a player like Wyatt, who has arguably the best “old man game” in college basketball, you’ve got a puncher’s chance at the upset.