PHILADELPHIA — Asked if he could see his Blue Devils take a loss like this one, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski held out his hands as if he were staring into a crystal ball.
“If I saw it coming, I would have faked an illness, instead of getting ill during the game,” Krzyzewski said.
Khalif Wyatt scored 22 points and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson had 17 to help Temple knock off No. 5 Duke 78-73 on Wednesday night.
In the final game before opening Atlantic Coast Conference play, the Blue Devils (12-2) looked little like the team that stormed off to one of the best starts under Krzyzewski.
Duke wasn’t sure what hit them.
The Blue Devils lost for the first time since Nov. 29 at Ohio State.
“We were slow and they played a lot harder than we did,” Rivers said. “Every 50-50 ball, they got them. They just outhustled us. We have a great team, but we just didn’t fight tonight.”
Long a regular in the NCAA tournament, the Owls (10-3) proved again how formidable they are against basketball’s elite.
Under coach Fran Dunphy, the Owls have made a knack out of upsetting some of the better programs. They beat No. 8 Tennessee in 2008, No. 3 Villanova in 2009, No. 9 Georgetown last season, and, now, Coach K and the Blue Devils.
This one felt better than them all.
“Whenever you play Duke, you want to beat those guys,” Owls forward Ramone Moore said.
Moore, Wyatt and Hollis-Jefferson all played a role in the win. So did Anthony Lee and Aaron Brown. Even star guard Juan Fernandez made up for an off-night from the field with a team-high six assists.
Dunphy said he needed a total team effort to beat Duke and that’s what he received on the home court of the NBA’s 76ers. The Owls shot 56 percent from the field (31 for 55), outrebounded Duke 32-29, and scored 21 points off turnovers.
“We’re thrilled to be standing here as winners tonight,” Dunphy said.
Using tough man-to-man defense that limited Duke’s long-range shots, the Owls grabbed the lead midway through the first half and never let it go. When the Blue Devils (12-2) crept within three points in the waning minutes, Wyatt hit those consecutive game-changing 3-pointers for a 66-57 lead.
The Owls had lost nine straight times to Duke, and hadn’t beat the Blue Devils since Jan. 25, 1996. This decisive victory in front of more than 20,000 fans gave the Owls wins over Top 10 teams for the fourth straight season, all in Philadelphia.
Temple students chanted “Over-rated!” in the final minutes and several thousand fans stormed the court in celebration and partied for the program’s first ever win at the Wells Fargo Center. Fans hoisted friends on their shoulders, several male fans took off their shirts and whipped them around the court like a helicopter, and the court was colored baseline-to-baseline in Temple cherry red.
The Owls paid tribute to their north Philly roots by riding the subway to the game.
“It’s kind of a tribute to all those Temple people that have done that for so many years,” Dunphy said. “That’s who we are. We just wanted to let everybody know that we appreciate what Temple University is all about.”
It’s a less joyous ride home for Duke.
The Owls shot 59.3 percent in the first half and led by only two points in front of 20,420, the third-largest crowd for a college game in Wells Fargo Center history. Moore and Wyatt buried consecutive 3s midway through the second half for a 10-point lead. The Blue Devils missed a series of looks around the basket and never got in gear from 3-point range in this Big 5 vs Top 5 matchup. The Owls kept it at their pace and avoided the costly turnovers down the stretch that could have sparked Duke back into this one. Everyone took a turn for the unselfish Owls, with five players scoring baskets in one stretch that preserved the lead at 60-54. Duke had the size advantage and towered over a Temple lineup that often featured four guards. But they hustled for loose balls, took away the 3, and limited a Blue Devils’ offense that had averaged 82.8 points a game and had reached 80 points in five straight games. “In order to beat a team that’s playing well, you have to play really well,” Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t show up to do that.”