ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Temple is back on the map in college basketball, on the road to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Dionte Christmas scored 29 points and the fourth-seeded Owls (22-11) became the first team to win consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference tournaments in eight years with a 69-64 victory over Duquesne on Saturday night.
"That was a goal, to get Temple back to where it was used to being, and that's the tournament, and winning the Atlantic 10 championship," Christmas said after tying a tournament finals record with seven 3-pointers. "That was definitely one of my goals. To win two back to back, that's crazy."
It also shows how far the Owls have come under coach Fran Dunphy.
When he replaced the legendary John Chaney three years ago, many wondered how long it would take the former Penn coach to turn things around. After a 12-18 first season, he got the Owls to the NCAA tournament last year and repeated this year.
Dunphy credited Chaney with making the transition easy for him.
"We have had a nice run over the last couple of years," Dunphy said. "We are a pretty lucky group of guys. I think it is very important. Temple has a tremendous college basketball history."
The disappointment was obvious for the seventh-seeded Dukes (21-12), who were looking for their first NCAA berth in 32 years, and just 2½ years after five basketball players were shot on campus. They won three games in three days but couldn't handle Temple's outside-inside punch of Christmas and Sergio Olmos, who had 14 points and nine rebounds.
They will probably have to settle for an NIT berth, the first postseason berth since 1994.
"Words can't really describe how disappointed and how empty I feel not going to the dance," said Aaron Jackson, the only remaining player on the team who was among those shot in the fall of 2006. "But right now I feel like our season's not over. Unfortunately it's not the NCAAs, it's the NIT, but it's still postseason and something you can get a banner on."
Jackson led the Dukes with 20 points.
The A10 title was the eighth for Temple, extending its league record. It also joined Chaney's teams from 2000 and 2001 in winning consecutive titles.
Those were the last of the good years for Temple. But they're back now, in large part, to Christmas delivering another major March present that he celebrated after the game by running around the court as the fans ran on the floor.
"We knew what Christmas was capable of doing," Jackson said. "Unfortunately for us, he had that killer instinct. The way he reads screens and the defense is incredible."
It was not different than last year when the Owls won the title last year over Saint Joseph's with Christmas scoring 22.
"I only thing I had on my mind tonight was winning the championship," Christmas said. "Every shot I took, I thought was going in."
This game never had the intensity of that Philadelphia-based rivalry, but the Dukes had their chances late to get back in the game, but they couldn't make the big shots.
Trailing 62-51 approaching the seven-minute mark, Jackson hit a 3-pointer and was fouled. He made the free throw to narrow the lead to seven points and Saunders closed the gap to 62-57 with a driving layup with 4:48 to go.
After Ryan Brooks of Temple hit a 3-pointer and Saunders hit a layup, Duquesne had five chances to cut into the Owls 65-59 lead and they missed shots on five straight possessions.
Christmas, named the tournament's outstanding player for the second straight year, ended the drought by both teams by finally hitting a free throw with 51 seconds to play.
After that, it was just a matter of running out the clock and watching the Owls hug each other as their fans calmly rushed the court at Boardwalk Hall in this casino resort, maybe, another sign that winning is back at Temple.
Brooks added 14 points and Lavoy Allen had 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Owls, who shot almost 46 percent from the field, including 11-of-28 from 3-point range.
Bill Clark added 13 points for Duquesne, which was outrebounded 41-30. The Dukes, who shot better than 50 percent in the first three games of the tournament, hit 10 of 30 in the second half to finish at 43 percent.
"I'm very proud of our basketball team, very disappointed we didn't come away with a win," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. "They were a great team and we didn't lose because of a lack of effort. Our effort was really good."
No one put on more of a show in an entertaining first half than Christmas, who scored 20 points, hitting six 3-pointers in helping Temple take a 42-37 lead.
Olmos added a free throw, and Allen and Brooks hit jumpers to push the lead to 47-37 early in the second half, and Duquesne never recovered.