NEW YORK (AP) - Temple made the trip up the New Jersey Turnpike with something big at stake and the 23rd-ranked Owls will head home with their first outright Atlantic 10 regular-season title in 22 years.
Juan Fernandez scored 19 points and backcourt mate Ramone Moore added 16 to lead Temple to an 80-60 victory against Fordham on Saturday.
``This was one of our goals and we had to try and come here and play basketball,' Moore said. ``This is a great achievement for our team but we're not finished yet. The next most important thing comes next week and we'll just continue to try and play our best basketball.'
The Owls (24-6, 13-3) had clinched at least a share of their conference-record 10th title with a win over Massachusetts on Wednesday. The Owls, who have won 13 of their last 14 games, will be the No. 1 seed for the Atlantic 10 tournament.
``This is a terrific achievement by a good group of guys who have come together all year under some interesting circumstances,' Temple coach Fran Dunphy said, referring to some injuries during the season. ``They have come together and done a really good job to focus to be No. 1 in a very competitive A-10. I think it is a terrific accomplishment for us.'
Chris Gaston had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Rams (10-19, 3-13), who ended the season losing seven of eight. Only the top 12 teams in the 14-team Atlantic 10 qualify for the postseason tournament.
``One goal I had coming into the season was to get in the conference tournament and we didn't get that although we did a lot better than we did last season,' second-year Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. ``I guarantee we'll make it next year because all 14 will qualify so I can do my Joe Namath here.'
Fernandez finished 6 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3s, and Moore was 7 of 13, including 1 for 3 from beyond the arc. The Owls finished 6 of 13 on 3s, while Fordham was 2 of 9.
Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field - Temple 52.5 percent (31 of 59) and Fordham 54.2 percent (26 of 48).
``I'm a little worried about our defense,' Dunphy said. ``We have to shore that up. ... What helped us was we turned them over a little bit.'
Fordham closed to 57-49 with 10:49 left on a rebound basket by Kervin Bristol. But Temple finally pulled away with a 14-2 run that made it 80-57 with 1:31 to go. Fernandez had his third 3-pointer of the game and a jumper before Aaron Brown capped the run with a 3-pointer.
Temple finished with 12 steals, five more than it averages for the season, and they were part of Fordham's 16 turnovers.
Dunphy was asked how reassuring it is for a coach to have a veteran backcourt like Fernandez, Moore, Khalif Wyatt, the Owls' second-leading scorer, and T.J. DiLeo, who had four points.
``We're blessed. We have a good group of guards who I think are pretty smart and have good IQs,' Dunphy said. ``Their toughness came to the front today when we needed it.'
This was Temple's sixth straight win over Fordham and extended its advantage in the series to 40-13. The Owls won 78-60 in Philadelphia on Feb. 1.
``That's a really good basketball team and I thought throughout the season they were the cream of the crop in the conference,' Pecora said. ``I appreciate teams that play within themselves as Dunph's always do. They play at their own pace. We were both shooting the heck out of it. That's the best we've scored all year but the problem was turnovers.'
Temple opened the game with a 9-0 run and the Owls had the lead to 25-13 with 9:42 left on two free throws by Aaron Brown. The Rams used a 7-0 run to get within four with 1:27 to go but Temple closed the half on a 6-0 run for a 40-30 lead.
The Associated Press News Service
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