Last month, Richmond had a relatively easy time handing Temple its most recent defeat. The Spiders know pulling off another upset of the Atlantic 10’s top team won’t be as easy this time around.
The top-seeded and 17th-ranked Owls have a chance to avenge that loss and claim their third consecutive conference tournament title as they face the third-seeded Spiders on Sunday in Atlantic City, N.J.
One of only two A-10 teams to beat Temple (28-5), Richmond dominated in a 71-54 home rout of the then-No. 19 Owls on Feb. 6. Temple shot 32.1 percent, committed 13 turnovers and allowed the Spiders to shoot 57.8 percent - the best effort by any opponent this season.
That loss, however, must have lit a fire under the Owls, who’ve since won nine in a row, thanks in part to a suffocating defense that’s paced their run to the tournament finals.
“We know they’re solid and want to get revenge,” Richmond guard David Gonzalvez said. “We don’t expect it to be easy.”
Temple, the first No. 1 seed to reach the finals since 2005, has won a conference-record eight titles and looks to become the first team to win three in a row since Massachusetts won five straight from 1992-96. If the Owls play as well as they have over the last month, it might not matter who’s standing in their way of becoming the first top seed to win the tournament since Xavier in 2002.
Owners of the league’s best defense that allowed 56.8 points per game during the regular season, Temple held Rhode Island to 27.1 percent shooting in Saturday’s 57-44 semifinal victory. It came one day after the Owls, who’ve won eight straight A-10 tournament games, held St. Bonaventure to 35.8 percent shooting in a 69-51 quarterfinal win.
“If we play this kind of basketball, it’s up to us if we want to win (Sunday),” said Temple guard Juan Fernandez, who’s averaging 15.5 points in the tournament and missed last month’s loss at Richmond because of a concussion. “In this tournament and this conference, every game is harder than the last one so we have got to stay prepared,”
Since the loss to Richmond (26-7), Temple’s last nine opponents have averaged 52.8 points on 35.2 percent shooting.
“They look great,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “They are one of the best teams in the country. Their defense is suffocating. It’s going to be an enormous challenge.”
Leading scorer Ryan Brooks had 16 points Saturday for the Owls, but he’s averaging 4.3 on 5-of-24 shooting in four career games against Richmond.
Richmond’s Kevin Anderson scored 29 points against Temple last month and finished with 27 in the Spiders’ 89-85 overtime win over second-seed and 24th-ranked Xavier on Saturday to secure their second title game berth. Gonzalvez added 26 points as Richmond tied a school record for wins in a season by winning its fourth straight game against a ranked opponent.
“For us to just get to this point, where we are today, is just really rewarding,” said Gonzalvez, who’s averaging 20.3 points on 56.3 percent shooting in four career games versus Temple.
Richmond lost 73-60 to Xavier in the 2002 A-10 tournament final.