If this is the program’s last season in the Atlantic 10, Temple sure is making it count.
Already having clinched the conference tournament’s top seed, the 23rd-ranked Owls seek their first outright A-10 title in 12 years when they visit last-place Fordham on Saturday.
Temple is rumored to be transitioning to the Big East next season, though no official announcement has been made. Nonetheless, it clinched at least a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship with a 90-88 overtime win over Massachusetts on Wednesday.
No matter what happens in the regular-season finale, the Owls (23-6, 12-3) hold the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament over second-place Saint Louis.
Khalif Wyatt scored 26 points and hit a breakaway layup with 16 seconds left in overtime Wednesday.
“Hopefully, the momentum carries into Saturday when we’ve got a chance to lock up the regular-season championship,” said Wyatt, who scored at least 24 for the third time in four games.
Coach Fran Dunphy, who led the Owls to three consecutive A-10 tournament titles from 2008-10, said he was nervous as his team squandered a 10-point lead late, but Wyatt scored the final seven points of overtime.
“I can’t say we were really tough and nasty down the stretch,” Dunphy said. “We made some really bonehead plays. We just kind of got lucky.
“I hope that we’re a team that finds a way.”
Temple is on the verge of its first outright conference regular-season title since the 1999-2000 season, when the legendary John Chaney manned the sidelines.
It is likely to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament even if it falters in the conference tournament, with its signature victory coming Jan. 4 in a 78-73 win over then-No. 5 Duke.
The Owls have won 12 of 13, though they haven’t been playing their best lately. They’ve allowed more than 70 points in three straight games for the first time all season, letting opponents make 43.7 percent from 3-point range. They needed overtime to beat La Salle 80-79 on Feb. 22, then lost 82-72 at St. Joseph’s on Saturday.
Temple has a good chance for an easier win against league-worst Fordham (10-18, 3-12), which will be playing its final game of the season after not qualifying for the A-10 tournament.
The Rams are guaranteed to finish last in the 13-team league, and only 12 have a shot at the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament bid. They are coming off a 78-58 loss at Rhode Island on Wednesday despite 20 points from Branden Frazier.
Leading scorer Chris Gaston, who averages 17.0 points, was held to nine and shot 3 for 11 after scoring a career high-tying 35 points in a 67-62 win over La Salle on Saturday.
Bryan Smith scored 23 points and Gaston added 14 against Temple on Feb. 1, but the Owls ran away with a 78-60 win behind 25 points from Ramone Moore and 24 from Wyatt.
Moore leads the conference with 17.9 points per game and Wyatt is third at 17.4.
Temple has won five straight meetings and 12 of 14 on the road since Fordham joined the A-10 prior to the 1995-96 season.