ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—Back to back.
The men’s basketball team captured its second straight Atlantic Ten Tournament Championship by defeating Duquesne, 69-64, Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.
The 11th-seeded Owls will face sixth-seed Arizona State Friday in Miami, Fla., in the NCAA Tournament in the South region.
Senior guard Dionte Christmas led the Owls with 29 points—including seven 3-pointers, which tied an A-10 finals record. The Temple co-captain was named to the all-championship team and was named its most outstanding performer for the second straight year.
The title was Temple’s eighth all-time and they became the first repeat champions since legendary coach John Chaney’s squad did it in 2000 and 2001. It’s also the 28th NCAA Tournament appearance for the Owls. The final score is also the same final score of last year’s A-10 final victory over Saint Joseph’s.
When the clock hit zero, it set off a frenzy on the floor, as students and fans rushed the court to celebrate with the jubilant players.
After enough hugs, cheers and net cutting ceremonies to last a lifetime, things calmed down, and the reflection on what the Owls just accomplished began.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” senior center Sergio Olmos said. “This is amazing, an amazing feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything [else], I just feel great.”
Olmos, who was also named to the all-championship team, hit for 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the contest. Junior guard Ryan Brooks also added 14 points, while sophomore forward Lavoy Allen chipped with yet another double-double, his 13th of the season, as he had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
The Owls shot 45 percent from the field in the game and out-rebounded the Dukes by 11. They extended a five-point halftime lead to 10 with a 5-0 run to begin the second half. The lead went as high as 12 before the Dukes started chipping away in the final minutes.
Brooks, who was substituted back into the game at the 4:19 mark, hit a 3-pointer by the Temple bench to push the lead up to eight and end the Dukes’ 6-0 run.
“Great coaching,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said with a laugh.
“I was trying to get a clean look for myself,” Brooks added. “Fortunately it went in.”
Brooks was also named to the all-championship team and was given the task of covering Duquesne senior guard Aaron Jackson, who finished with 20 points in the contest.
However, five of those points were changed to senior guard Semaj Inge, who covered Jackson when Brooks was resting on the bench.
No one scored from the 3:43 mark to the 50 second clip of the second half, and with a seven-point lead at that point, the party was on in Atlantic City for the Owls.
“It’s a great feeling for us,” Dunphy said of the win. “We’re privileged and honored to be [A-10] champions.”
“It means a lot,” Christmas said. “[The win] says a lot about this team, about the captains on this team, about the coaches, the players. We never gave up.”
Christmas, who became the fourth Owl ever to surpass the 2,000 point milestone, backed up that talk as he hit for 20 points in the first half, including scoring 14 of Temple’s final 18 points of the half.
“I thought every shot I shot today was going in,” Christmas said.
“He was spectacular in the first half,” Dunphy added. “I looked like everything was going to go in the basket that he shot.”
Christmas was 6-10 from beyond the arc in the first half and 7-16 for the game.
“I was just thinking, he’s giving me a lot of assists,” freshman guard Juan Fernandez said.
Fernandez finished with two points and four assists in 18 minutes of action off the bench.
Coming to Philadelphia Dec. 26, it’s certainly been an interesting couple of months for Temple’s rookie phenom.
“This is crazy, I never imagined this when I got here,” Fernandez said. “I’m really enjoying this right now, but it’s not over. We want to go to the NCAA Tournament and do well.”
That was a popular sentiment in the Owls’ locker room, as last year, they lost to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the Owls aren’t just happy to be there.
“Let’s [get] this win behind us, get to the Tournament and have a respectable performance there,” Inge, who had no points and eight assists in the game, said. “I don’t want to go down there, fight hard, and lose again. I want to win.”
The Owls will find out where they’re seeded tomorrow at 5 p.m. in a Selection Show party at the Fox Gittis Room of the Liacouras Center. The event is open to the public.
Game Notes: The Owls hit 11 3-pointers in the contest, which tied an A-10 finals record…The announced crowd of 6,823 was mostly pro-Temple, and it featured a large student section that took a long time to get off the court so the post-game ceremonies could begin…Freshman forward Micheal Eric on the win: “Right now I’m speechless”…Sophomore forward Craig Williams, who played just three first-half minutes: “I can’t believe this happened”…One of Christmas’ 3-point attempts went as a jump ball, as the ball became stuck between the rim and the backboard…Presuming an Owls win, ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Owls as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.