PHILADELPHIA -- Dionte Christmas had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Temple held off a late run by Saint Joseph's, beating its longtime rival 61-59 in another city series thriller Thursday night.
The Owls (14-9, 6-3 Atlantic 10) needed this conference win more than the first-place Hawks and maintained their hold on fourth place in the standings. The first four spots earn the coveted bye in the A-10 tourney next month in Atlantic City, N.J.
Ahmad Nivins scored 21 points for the Hawks and got the better of Christmas in a battle of the two leading scorers in the conference. Christmas is on track for his third straight scoring title, but the personal goals can wait.
Christmas wants to lead the Owls into the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.
This one appeared over when Temple had a late 11-point lead, but that vanished in the final two minutes. The Owls missed 11 free throws in the final 2:28, letting the Hawks back in the game and nearly allowing them to pull off the comeback win.
But, the two-point game shouldn't have been much of a surprise. This was either the 146th meeting (according to Temple) to 144th meeting (according to SJU) and each of the last five games have been decided by five or less points.
This was the first matchup for the longtime city rivals since Temple won the A-10 tournament championship game last March. The Hawks made the tournament with an at-large bid and came into the Palestra as winners of nine of 10.
Besides Nivins, the Hawks had no reliable scorer, especially on the perimeter. They hit a pair of late 3s that only gave them six total jump shots.
But it was enough to inch them back into the game.
Nivins kept Saint Joseph's faint shot at victory alive on a dunk with 21 seconds left that cut it to 58-53. Garrett Williamson calmly made his two free throws for the Hawks and it was 59-57 with 10 seconds left.
Juan Fernandez, a 70 percent free-throw shooter, missed the first, and another packed Palestra crowd erupted at the home of the Big 5. He hit the second to make it 60-57 with 9.2 seconds left.
Williamson was fouled again with 6.2 remaining and went to the line for the 1-and-1. He made both and it was 60-59.
Fernandez then went 1-for-2 and the Hawks missed a desperation shot.
The Owls used an 18-0 run stretched over the first and second half to build a double-digit lead. The Hawks missed 10 straight shots in the same span before going on a short spurt that pulled them within six.
Christmas hit a layup and Craig Williams hit a 3 that pushed the lead back to 11. Williams hit another arching 3 from the corner with 8:30 left for an 11-point lead.
Nivins dunked off an offensive rebound and it was 49-41 with 5:45 left.
No worries for Temple. Christmas drilled a 3 and let out a "Whoo!" as he backpedaled down court. Williamson came right down and hit a 3-pointer. It was that kind of game.
Christmas tossed up an awkward jumper trying to draw a foul and the ball banked in for a 54-43 lead.
Christmas and Inge each hit 3s during a 14-0 run and the Owls made their last six of the half to take a 29-21 lead into halftime.