Not long after finalizing its plans to leave for the Big East, Temple will try to continue its recent success in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
The 21st-ranked Owls will begin their quest for a fourth title in five years Friday against Massachusetts in a quarterfinal matchup in Atlantic City, N.J.
Temple announced Wednesday that it would leave the Atlantic 10 in all sports after next season and its football program would return to the Big East later this year. The Owls’ men’s basketball team has been a member of the A-10 since the beginning of the 1982-83 season.
Coach Fran Dunphy, though, insists the news of that conference change hasn’t been a distraction.
“We’re worried about our team and our team playing Friday at noon,” he said. “I’m thinking about UMass and that’s all I’m thinking about.”
Temple (24-6) heads into Atlantic City after securing its first outright A-10 regular-season title in 22 years with an 80-60 win at last-place Fordham on Saturday.
“This is a great achievement for our team but we’re not finished yet,” leading scorer Ramone Moore said. “The next most important thing comes next week and we’ll just continue to try and play our best basketball.”
While Moore averages 17.8 points to rank second in the A-10, fellow senior guard Juan Fernandez has come on strong with 37 points over the last two games after an eight-game span in which he averaged 8.6.
Moore and Fernandez now try to help the Owls add to their conference-best total of nine tournament championships. They ended a streak of three consecutive crowns last year with a loss to eventual champion Richmond in the semifinals.
Temple is 26-2 all-time in the A-10 quarterfinals but will face a UMass team that it barely beat at home last week. Khalif Wyatt’s go-ahead layup with 16 seconds left in overtime gave the Owls a 90-88 win Feb. 29 and clinched the top seed for the conference tournament.
Wyatt scored the final seven points in the extra session to finish with 26, two shy of a career high, and his 17.1 average is tied for third in the A-10. Michael Eric matched his career best with 19 points and pulled down 15 rebounds against UMass.
That loss was one of four over a five-game stretch for the eighth-seeded Minutemen (21-10), but they have bounced back with consecutive victories. They defeated Duquesne 92-83 on Tuesday to open the conference tournament.
“To know that we’re moving on to play Temple in the quarterfinals is definitely big,” said swingman Javorn Farrell, who scored a season-high 20 points. “We talked about before the game that it’s do or die from here on out.”
First-team all-Atlantic 10 guard Chaz Williams, averaging a team-best 16.4 points and a league-leading 6.4 assists, had 21 points Tuesday and is averaging 22.0 over the past three games. The transfer from Hofstra had 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in his first meeting with the Owls.
Temple has won three straight matchups with UMass and five of the past six, but three of those games went to overtime - including the last two.
The winner of this game will face St. Bonaventure or Saint Joseph’s in Saturday’s semifinals.