By TODD GOLDEN
DAYTON, Ohio —
Indiana saved its best for last on Sunday.
And the Hoosiers’ quest for the program’s sixth national title rolls on.
Outplayed for much of the game by No. 9 seed Temple, IU rallied for a 58-52 win over the Owls in the NCAA Tournament third round, with Christian Watford adding another highlight to his personal highlight reel and Victor Oladipo clinching the win with a clutch 3-pointer.
Now, the Hoosiers (29-6) head to Washington, D.C., for the Sweet Sixteen, and a matchup on Thursday with No. 4 seed Syracuse (28-9).
The first half Sunday was the Khalif Wyatt show. Temple’s standout guard, the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting as the Owls led 29-26 at halftime.
“I think I was just being aggressive,” Wyatt said of his early success. “My teammates kept coming to me and I was just being aggressive.”
While Wyatt was off to a hot start, his teammates weren’t. The other Owls shot 4-of-20 in the first half.
But the Hoosiers weren’t much better, shooting 10-of-26 in their second lowest scoring first half of the season. Ohio State held IU to 25 points in a 67-58 win over the Hoosiers on March 5 in Bloomington.
“This is as tough as team as we’ve faced all season,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “You can see it on film, but film doesn’t do justice obviously to how tough they are.”
IU actually jumped out to a decent lead, taking a 20-11 advantage midway through the first half on a Watford jumper. But the Owls closed the half with an 18-6 run.
The Hoosiers wouldn’t lead again until Oladipo hit one of two free throws with 1:19 left to break a 52-52 tie. Oladipo would add a 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining after Watford’s block of Anthony Lee, and Watford would add two free throws for the final margin.
Temple didn’t score in the final 3:09.
“The whole game they were overplaying me, but I think the last six minutes maybe they just all-out face-guarded me full court,” said Wyatt, whose frustration with IU’s style of play was evident at times. “It was real hard for me to get the ball.
“Oladipo is a really good defender. And that kid (Remy) Abell is a really good defender. It was just really difficult for me to get the ball,” added Wyatt, who finished with 31 points after he shot just 4-of-10 in the second half.
Lee added 10 points off the bench for Temple (24-10), whose season ended in part because three Owls’ starters — forward Jake O’Brien and guards Will Cummings and Scootie Randall — combined to shoot 0-for-21 from the field.
“I’ve had days like this,” said Randall, who was 0-for-12 himself but did have a game-high nine rebounds. “The only thing that was going through my head when I was missing is keep shooting and do other things to try to help my team.”
“Temple couldn’t get separation,” Crean said. “If they had been able to, things would be different. But they couldn’t get separation.”
Oladipo led IU with 16 points while Cody Zeller scored 15 and Will Sheehey added 10 off the bench.
And Watford, who scored nine, gets his wish.
“My motivation is to play with these guys as long as possible,” he said.