NEW YORK — Temple senior guard Khalif Wyatt will never play in a Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden.
But he wishes he could get the chance.
“Oh, yeah, I mean I would love to, but my time is up,” Wyatt told SNY.tv exclusively following his career-high 33-point outburst as Temple stunned No. 3 Syracuse, 83-79, in the Chevrolet Gotham Classic at the Garden.
Temple moves to the Big East — or whatever the league formerly known as the Big East will be called — next season, so the Owls will play their first Big East Tournament at the Garden in 2014.
Of course, Syracuse will be out of the Big East next season and playing its first year in the ACC, forcing its huge throng of Northeast-based fans to head to Greensboro, N.C., to watch the Orange in a postseason tournament.
The 6-foot-4 Wyatt won’t get to play in the Big East event, but if Saturday was any indication he might be well suited to the bright lights and the big stage of March in New York City.
In his first game ever at the arena, Wyatt lit up previously unbeaten Syracuse by going 8-for-17 from the floor and a perfect 15-for-15 from the line.
“As a kid you want to play at Madison Square Garden,” Wyatt told SNY.tv. “I’m from the Norristown area, the Philadelphia area. Everybody calls it the Mecca of basketball, and you just want to play your best. And it was a great atmosphere.”
The atmosphere was charged with a huge pro-Syracuse crowd, but that didn’t stop Wyatt and teammate Anthony Lee from penetrating the Syracuse zone and taking advantage. Lee had a career-high 21 points.
A 6-9 sophomore, Lee will get to play in the Big East Tournament in 2014 when the league is currently slated to have 18 teams, including newcomers Memphis, SMU, Houston and UCF, as well as outgoing members Louisville and Rutgers, plus the seven departing Catholic schools.
As things currently stand in the ever-changing conference realignment landscape, Rutgers and Louisville will leave for the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, in 2014, while the Catholic 7 are slated to go in 2015.
Having beaten perennial Big East power Syracuse on the Garden floor in front of an orange-clad audience, Lee believes that experience will power himself and his teammates going forward.
“It really does,” said Lee, a Columbia, Md., native playing his first game at the Garden. “After playing here now, I will definitely be confident and the nerves and all those things won’t be there. Just be able to play the game and have fun. You know, the atmosphere was so great, it was crazy.
“Next year it’s definitely going to benefit us because the guys like me, [sophomore] Will [Cummings], returners, they’re going to have that experience of just playing in here.”
Another one of those returning players will be Quenton DeCosey, a freshman guard out of St. Joe’s-Metuchen, the same school that currently features 2014 Kentucky commit Karl Towns.
DeCosey is looking forward to playing a Big East Tournament here in 2014.
“Yeah, this is kind of just a statement that we can play against big teams, Big East teams, so it’s a statement game,” said DeCosey, who had six points and six rebounds, but was 1-for-5 from the foul line.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy tries to downplay the conference realignment angle, but he knows that going into next year his younger players will now own a huge victory over a Big East power on the Garden floor.
“I think our guys understand how big the moment is, coming into New York City and in Madison Square Garden,” Dunphy said. “I think the biggest thing is playing a team like Syracuse, just a remarkable program…I think they understand, especially a kid like Khalif who, he has no fear, he just wants the moment and I thought he embraced the moment.”
Wyatt is one of those guys who seems like he could be a big-time star in New York in March. Maybe not Gerry McNamara-big, but it’s not hard to imagine him leading his team on a special run in this building in March.
He’ll never get that chance, but he’ll always have Saturday.
And his younger teammates can create their own Garden moments going forward into the uncertain future of the Big East.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Wyatt said. “Temple’s a good program and we got a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country so next year they won’t have a problem in the Big East, whoever’s in the Big East next year.”