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The Temple Owls clinched a first round bye and the No. 3 seed in next week's Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament by beating the No. 21/19 Virginia Commonwealth Rams, 84-76, on a CBS national broadcast and in front of a soldout whiteout crowd at the Liacouras Center. Senior guard Khalif Wyatt
scored a game-high 30 points on his Senior Day to help lead the Owls charge back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Rams. Graduate student Jake O'Brien
added 19 points in Temple's comeback effort.
All five players who took part in Senior Day festivities had a hand in the victory as the quintet accounted for 71 of the Owls' 84 points. Scootie Randall
had 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds while T.J. DiLeo
(6 pts) and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson
(3 pts, 5 assists) helped the Owls to their season-high seventh straight win and Liacouras Center record-tying 14 victory in their final home game of their careers.
It looked like it was going to be an easy one at first, as seniors, energized from the pregame ceremony, jumped out to a 12-3 lead over the first four minutes.
VCU, known for its Havoc defense and high-powered offense, answered the bell. The Rams ran off 18 straight points to flip the nine-point deficit to a nine-point advantage (21-12) over the next five minutes.
The teams traded baskets over the next four minutes before VCU went on a 10-2 run to push the margin to 16 points (36-20) with just under six minutes remaining in the half.
The Owls, however, would score the final nine points of the period, with Randall accounting for five in the run, to cut the deficit to a manageable, 41-36, at the break.
It was all Temple in the second half, as the Owls scored 17 of the first 21 points to take a 53-48 lead. O'Brien connected on two of his season-high five three-pointers (8 attempts) in the run while Randall contributed five points.
Temple broke the game open on consecutive threes from Randall and Wyatt, making it 68-56 with 6:34 remaining. Wyatt's trey, his lone one of the game, came off a Hollis-Jefferson steal to give TU its first double-digit lead. Another mini-run (8-0) two minutes later, keyed by a Will Cummings
three to push the margin to 17 points (78-61).
The Owls then maintained a double-figure lead until a Melvin Johnson (13 pts) trey in the final seconds accounted for the game's final points.
Juvonte Reddick led VCU with 20 points and nine rebounds while Treveon Graham added 17 points and five assists.
Temple only turned the ball over 13 times against VCU's defense, which entered playing ranked first in the nation in steals (11.8 spg.).
The Owls shot 56 percent from the field in the second half (14-25) and 53 percent from three-point range.
For Wyatt, it was his fifth 30-point game of the season. He also became the 12th Temple player to score over 600 points in a season, and now ranks 14th all-time with 616 points in 2012-13.
It was a special day as well for the Temple program as the Owls honored arguably their greatest team, the 1987-88 squad that posted a 32-2 record and ended the season #1 in the nation by the Associated Press, at halftime.
The Owls finish the regular season 23-8 overall and 11-5 in A-10 play. As the 3-seed in the A10 Tournament, they will play the winner of #6-seed UMass vs. #11-seed George Washington on Friday evening (9:00 pm/The Comcast Network/1210 AM WPHT) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.