March 14, 2009

 

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Temple is back, and going to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

Dionte Christmas scored 29 points and the four-seeded Owls (22-11) became the first team to win consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference tournaments in eight years with a 69-64 victory over Duquesne on Saturday night.

The seventh-seeded Dukes (21-12) were looking for their first NCAA berth in 32 years, and just 2 1/2 years after five basketball players were shot on campus. They won three games in three days but couldn't handle Temple outside-inside punch of Christmas and Sergio Olmos, who had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Aaron Jackson, the only remaining player on the team who was among those shot in the fall of 2006, led the Dukes with 20 points.

The A10 title was the eighth for Temple, and the second in three years since Fran Dunphy replaced John Chaney as coach. Chaney's Owls were the last team to win consecutive titles in 2000 and 2001, but Temple struggled after that.

They're back now, in large part, to Christmas delivering seven high-arcing 3-pointers in another major March present.

When the Owls won the title last year over Saint Joseph's, Christmas led the way with 22.

This game never had the intensity of that Philadelphia-based rivalry, but the Dukes had their chances late to get back in the game, but they couldn't make the big shots.

Trailing 62-51 approaching the seven-minute mark, Jackson hit a 3-pointer and was fouled. He made the free throw to narrow the lead to seven points and Saunders closed the gap to 62-57 with a driving layup with 4:48 to go.

After Ryan Brooks of Temple hit a 3-pointer and Saunders hit a layup, Duquesne had five chances to cut into the Owls 65-59 lead and they missed shots on five straight possessions.

Christmas, who was named the tournament's outstanding player for the second straight year, ended the drought by both teams by finally hitting a free throw with 51 seconds to play.

After that is was just a matter of running out the clock, and watching the Owls hug each other as their fans calmly rushed the court at Boardwalk Hall in this casino resort, maybe, another sign that winning is back at Temple.

Brooks added 14 points and Lavoy Allen had 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Owls, who shot almost 46 percent from the field, including 11 of 28 from 3-point range.

Bill Clark added 13 points for Duquesne, which was outrebounded 41-30. The Dukes, who shot better than 50 percent in the first three games of the tournament, hit 10 of 30 in the second half to finish at 43 percent.

Duquesne, which has not been to a postseason tournament since 1994, will have to wait on Sunday for what probably will be an NIT bid.

No one put on more of a show in an entertaining first half than Christmas, who scored 20 points, hitting six 3-pointers in helping Temple take a 42-37 lead.

Olmos added a free throw, and Allen and Brooks hit jumpers to push the lead to 47-37 early in the second half, and Duquesne never recovered.

Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the first half that flowed with only 10 total fouls and seven turnovers.

Clark led Duquesne with 10 and Saunders had 9. Olmos gave the Owls an inside presence with nine points on 4 of 5 shooting while Brooks scored nine points in helping them get off to a quick start.