Temple was picked fifth in a preseason poll but proved the doubters wrong.
Stop me if you have heard this one before, but Temple coach Fran Dunphy and the men’s basketball team are Atlantic Ten Conference champions.
By defeating Richmond, 56-52, last Sunday, the Owls captured their third straight title and became the first team to achieve the feat since Massachusetts won five straight from 1992-1996. For a number of reasons, the 2010 Championship seems to be more satisfying for the Cherry and White.
Temple went into this year’s A-10 Tournament in a completely different situation than years past. The Owls entered the Tournament without 2,000-point scorer Dionte Christmas. For the first time in the Dunphy era, they also went in as favorites as the No. 1 seed. In the beginning of the year, that wasn’t the case. In a preseason poll, the league’s coaches picked the Owls to finish tied for fifth with Duquesne. That type of doubt is something the team has learned to deal with, junior forward Lavoy Allen said.
“All three years we’ve been not picked to win the Championship,” Allen said. “We were underrated again in the beginning of the season, but we found a way to get through that. We came together as a team.”
“Nobody thought that we could do this good this year,” senior guard Luis Guzman agreed. “We won the regular season, we won the Big 5, and we won the Atlantic 10. I know that nobody had the mindset that we could do it, but we did it.”
Players like senior guard Ryan Brooks and sophomore guard Juan Fernandez made sure the Owls did not disappoint once they got into the A-10 Tournament.
Brooks scored 16 points in Temple’s 57-44 victory against Rhode Island before scoring 12 points against Richmond in the A-10 Championship game. Four of Brooks’ points were free throws that came toward the end of the game against the Spiders and gave the Owls some much-needed breathing room.
Fernandez tied his career-high in assists in the quarterfinal and semifinal games against St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island by dishing out seven dimes in both performances. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over until the Championship game. When the Championship came around, the Argentine took over. He scored 18 points, including 11 points in the first half. His performance garnered him Most Outstanding Player honors for the Tournament.
Though Temple made it through all of its games in the A-10 Tournament without ever trailing its opponents, the level of competition in the A-10 was higher this year than in years past. After defeating Saint Joseph’s and Duquesne, two teams that were not expected to make the Championship the last two years, the Owls faced a 26-win Richmond team that wound up receiving a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’d say this year was the toughest of the three,” Allen said. “Richmond was a very great team. The A-10 altogether was very tough. It definitely feels good to win.”
Temple is not finished, obviously. The No. 5-seeded Owls face No. 12 Cornell in Jacksonville, Fla., Friday in an opening-round game of the NCAA Tournament. Winning the A-10 Tournament was only the first step toward a greater goal, Fernandez said.
“It feels great [to win],” Fernandez said. “We’ve learned how to play together, how to play as a team. We have some goals, and we’ve achieved one by winning the Atlantic 10.”
No matter what happens in Jacksonville and beyond, players like Brooks, Guzman and senior forward Rafael DeLeon will always have fond memories of Atlantic City, N.J. Although the three already had a couple of A-10 Championships to their names, this latest one will be the one they remember for the rest of their lives.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.