Duke's Austin Rivers, left, and Temple's Khalif Wyatt chase a loose ball during the first half in Philadelphia. TOM MIHALEK - AP
Updated 10:41 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA – At a couple of critical points of Temple’s surprising 78-73 win over Duke, it seemed a defensive stop or two was all the Blue Devils needed to grab the momentum and change a narrative that had been developing since the end of November.
That’s when Duke’s defense and intensity were first questioned in the aftermath of a 22-point loss to Ohio State.
Temple guard Khalif Wyatt ensured Duke never got the defensive stop it needed Wednesday night, knocking down a pair of clutch 3-pointers with a little more than 4 minutes remaining to lift the Owls (10-3) to their first win over the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (12-2) in 10 tries.
Afterwards, Duke’s players sounded many of the same alarms they did after that loss to the Buckeyes.
“We didn’t fight,” Austin Rivers said. “It’s the same stuff that happened with Ohio State. We came out, and we didn’t fight. They just kept throwing punches at us and kept making shots. People can say, ‘Oh, they were lucky shots.’ But they weren’t. They had confidence. They had guys that were making shots with confidence because we let them have confidence.”
Added Mason Plumlee, “I just think both games, we came out flat and not ready to play. You can’t come out slow on the road.”
Mason and Miles Plumlee paced the Blue Devils offense, finishing with 16 and 17 points, respectively. Wyatt led all scorers with 22 points.
Temple made 56.4 percent of its shots and knocked down 50 percent of its 3-pointers. Just as alarmingly for Duke, the Owls – who only have one starter taller than 6-foot-6 – outrebounded the Blue Devils by three.
“That can’t happen against an undersized team,” said Mason Plumlee, who finished with 13 rebounds and was the only Duke player with more than four.
“That can’t happen against anybody. We can’t be outrebounded.”
The game was close throughout the first half, with neither side taking more than a five-point lead, but the Owls started to pull away in the second half.
With Temple up 49-45, Rivers tried to get to the rim but missed on a drive. The Owls’ Ramone Moore came down on the other end and knocked down a 3-pointer. After a Duke turnover, Anthony Lee made another 3-pointer to put Temple up 55-45 with 9:31 remaining.
By then, the Wells Fargo Center crowd – it was the third-largest in the history of the building for college basketball – smelled an upset.
Plumlee threw the Owls’ fans off the scent temporarily, scoring on Duke’s next two possessions to cut the Owls’ lead to 55-49.
Plumlee then scored on back-to-back possessions a couple of minutes later to offset a Temple basket and bring the Blue Devils within four, 60-56.
When Temple turned the ball over on its next possession and Miles Plumlee made one of two free throws, the Blue Devils were within three.
But that’s when Wyatt landed his knockout punch, hitting a 3-pointer from the right corner and another from the right wing.
“They made big shots,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We obviously didn’t play very well, but that doesn’t take away from how well they played. They played really well. For some reason, we didn’t show up with the enthusiasm and toughness that we usually display.”
With the Temple crowd roaring after Wyatt’s second 3, Andre Dawkins turned the ball over on the Blue Devils’ next possession. As the ball bounced out of bounds, Dawkins gave a quick, dispirited look up to the heavens as if to say: “Not again.”
“Once you let a team think they can play with you, then it’s going to be tough to win,” Rivers said. “That’s what we did – we were soft. They came out, and they just kept playing. We just kept backing down and we lost.”