The student section unfurled an "A-10 regular season champs" banner moments before No. 20 Temple beat George Washington 70-57 on Saturday to win a share of the conference championship. The sign served as the perfect backdrop for a team photo and a fun way to kick off a celebration the Owls have anticipated for weeks.
"This is the time we've waited for a little bit now," guard Ryan Brooks said. "Now that it's here, we're going to take it seriously."
The Owls can take a short breather to enjoy a few milestones. They also earned the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament.
Temple (26-5, 14-2) has won the last two conference tournament titles, but coach Fran Dunphy's team won't have to sweat out winning this year to keep playing in March. They'll be in the NCAA field - and the Owls will be there with their best chance to win a tournament game for the first time since 2001.
Temple proved the last two seasons a No. 1 seed is no guarantee of winning it all. Still, they'll take the top honor.
"I believe we have a long season ahead of us," Brooks said. No. 25 Xavier would finish with the same A-10 record as Temple with a win Saturday against St. Bonaventure. But the Owls hold the tiebreaker because of a 77-72 win in their lone matchup on Jan. 20.
"It's important that we say to ourselves we played as good as anybody else in the conference in the regular season," Dunphy said.
Micheal Eric scored 18 points, Brooks scored 14 points and Lavoy Allen had 12.
The Owls honored former greats at halftime, including Mark Macon and Hall of Fame coach John Chaney. The Owls have had a season reminiscent of Chaney's glory days when they reached the regional final five times from 1988-2001.
Dunphy has performed one of college basketball's top coaching jobs this season, leading a team picked to finish fifth in the A-10 into the national rankings and now a conference title.
"I'm hoping they'll be in a nice bracket," Chaney said. Chaney greeted most of the players near the locker room after the game with a kind word or encouragement. He's tight with Dunphy and gave the blessing for the former Penn coach to take over in 2006.
Like they have all season, the Owls got a little bit of production from just about every player. Eric scored nine of 11 Temple points early in the second half to open up a 10-point lead. Allen, Ramone Moore and Brooks went inside for buckets three straight times that stretched the lead to 14 and all but wrapped up the conference championship.
Joseph Katuka scored 13 points for George Washington (16-13, 6-10) and Lasan Kromah had 12.
"They just dominated us inside," George Washington coach Karl Hobbs said. "We've got to not make the mental breakdown mistakes that, for some reason, we just can't correct."
The Owls got off to a sluggish start and trailed a chunk of the first half until Moore's tip-in at the buzzer gave them a 30-29 lead at the break. Brooks and Eric got hot early in the second to help the Owls finish 12-1 at home this season.
What a season already for the Owls.
They cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 and beat a top-5 team in Villanova for the first time since 2000. Temple also won the city series title.
"Now we have a whole new set of goals we have to reassess," Dunphy said.
First, some revelry.
The estatic Owls ran around the court high-fiving fans and gathered at halfcourt for a team huddle and a little dancing. Guard Juan Fernandez dashed into the stands to hug some fans and some Owls jumped on their teammates' backs as they walked down the tunnel to the locker room to celebrate some more.
"We knew teams were going to start bringing their A-game to us and we were going to have to step up," Brooks said. "We just wanted to focus on getting better as a team and building momentum going into the postseason."