NEW YORK — Fordham's final game last season was a win that started quite a celebration. This season ended with a loss, but there were still some reasons for optimism.
Last March, the Rams beat Massachusetts in the season finale, a victory that snapped a 41-game losing streak in the Atlantic 10.
On Saturday, the Rams lost 80-60 to No. 23 Temple, and although they won't be in the conference tournament again — 12 of the 14 teams in the league qualify — things are a lot different as the balls are put away.
"It was another sellout. We can't ask for more," second-year coach Tom Pecora said of the fourth crowd of 3,200 this season in Rose Hill Gym, which opened on Jan. 16, 1925, and is the oldest building in use in Division I. "Attendance is up, donations are up, the talent level is up, total wins are up, that's how I'm going to look at this season. There were a couple of wins we could have had.
"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 and a winning record at home is so important as you build something," said Pecora, who finished 7-21 in his first season at Fordham. "I guarantee we'll make it next year because all 14 will qualify, so I can do my Joe Namath here."
Juan Fernandez scored 19 points and backcourt mate Ramone Moore added 16 to lead Temple, which won its first outright Atlantic 10 regular-season title since 1989-90.
"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.
"They got into us," Pecora said of Temple's veteran backcourt that repeatedly forced the Rams into turnovers. "There was a big difference between their seniors and our sophomores and freshmen. We made some poor decisions, especially on the break."
Fernandez finished 6 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers, and Moore was 7 of 13, including 1 for 3 from beyond the arc. The Owls went 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 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 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.
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