ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Defending champion Temple beat No. 19 Xavier at its own game in the semifinal of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament: defense.
Dionte Christmas scored 20 points and Temple held the Musketeers to season lows in points and field-goal percentage in a 55-53 victory that gave the fourth-seeded Owls (21-11) a chance to become the first team to repeat as conference tournament champions since they did it in 2000-01."Xavier is a tremendous basketball team," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "Defense is really where they make their money. You can throw a lot of the game plan out the window. It's like trying to get blood from a stone trying to score. We made enough plays to get the victory, but it was a hard-fought game."Lavoy Allen added 10 points and 11 rebounds as the fourth-seeded Owls (21-11), who will play Duquesne on Saturday night for an automatic berth to the tournament."It says a lot about our program, our character and our coaches," said Christmas, who scored the final seven points for Temple. "This team has worked so hard to get where we are right now. It definitely means a lot, not only to me, but to my program and coaches."Xavier (25-7) will have to settle for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament."It is certainly not a time for our team to lose sight of the great season that we have had," said Xavier coach Sean Miller, who'll have the team at his house to watch the selection show Sunday. "We won our conference outright for the third straight year, we won 25 games, got to the semifinals again and could not break through."Derrick Brown had 19 points and B.J. Raymond added 18 for the Musketeers, who lost in the semifinals for the third straight year as the top-seeded team.Trailing 54-51, Raymond missed a tying 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Christmas iced the Owls' fourth straight win and ninth in 11 games seconds later with a free throw.The Owls held Xavier to 34.5 percent shooting from the field (20-of-58) and limited them to two field goals in the final 7:23, including a meaningless shot in the lane by Brown at the buzzer.Neither team led by more than five points in the final 26-plus minutes.Temple didn't take the lead for good until Semaj Inge hit the first of two free throws with 4:48 to play to take a 48-47 lead.Neither team scored again for almost three minutes, and then Christmas took over. He nailed a 3-pointer with 1:50 to go to give Temple a 51-47 lead."It was in my mind that my team needed a basket right now," Christmas said. "I'm a senior and a leader and I needed to make this basket."After Raymond hit two free throws with 1:27 to play, Christmas came back and hit another 3-pointer to push the lead to 54-49 with 1:10 to play."We gave him the ball and hoped he did something with it," Dunphy said. "He deserved to have the ball in his hands."Brown made Xavier's first field goal in more than six minutes when he scored with 51 seconds to go to cut the margin to 54-51. After a turnover by Christmas, the Musketeers had one more chance but Raymond, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half, couldn't find the range.Temple, which was in its 24th semifinal in 27 years, will be looking for a record eighth Atlantic 10 title Saturday.Xavier's previous low points total this season was 58 against Dayton on Feb. 11. Its lowest field-goal percentage was 36 percent in a win over Memphis."When we lost throughout the year our defense kind of let us down," Miller said. "Tonight, it seemed we just couldn't score, and give great credit to Temple. We have to do a better job of getting players shots."