ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Ryan Brooks scored 16 points and No. 17 Temple held Rhode Island to its lowest point total in five years for a 57-44 victory in an Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinal Saturday.
Sophomore guard Juan Fernandez once again ignited the top-seeded Owls (28-5), scoring the first seven points and nine overall in the two-time defending champions' game-opening 15-2 run. The spurt took the air out of Rhode Island (23-9) and left it in a precarious position for the NCAA tournament heading into Selection Sunday.
Fernandez finished with 14 points and matched a career high with seven assists as Temple won its ninth straight game and beat the fifth-seeded Rams for the third time this season. The Owls held URI to 27 percent shooting from the field (16 of 59).
The last time Rhode Island scored fewer points was in a 67-41 loss at Houston on Dec. 27, 2005. The Rams' previous low this season also came against Temple, in a 78-56 loss on Feb. 13.
Temple has held nine opponents under 50 points and is 8-1 in those games.
Keith Cothran had 11 to lead the Rams, who have now lost 19 straight games to ranked opponents.
Temple will play the winner of the semifinal between No. 24 Xavier and Richmond on Sunday afternoon for the league's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, although all three are likely to get bids.
The Owls are looking to become the conference's first team to win three consecutive titles since Massachusetts won five in a row from 1992-96.
Not even Mother Nature could help the Rams, who came into the game averaging 77.1 points, on a horrible day in which heavy rain and strong winds kept most people inside in this oceanside casino resort.
The driving rain got into some air handlers on the roof of Boardwalk Hall and a drip started falling near halfcourt with 13:49 left in the first half and the Owls ahead 11-2.
Play was suspended for seven minutes while the problem was resolved.
The delay didn't slow Temple or change Rhode Island's play.
When play resumed Lavoy Allen hit two free throws and scored on a layup on the next possession to push the lead to 15-2.
Rhode Island never got closer than six points the rest of the way, with the Owls breaking the game open late in the first half with a 10-2 run that gave it a 34-17 lead. Brooks hit two jumpers to end the spurt.
Temple led by as many as 23 points in the second half before slowing things down. The Owls are the first top seed to reach the conference final since Saint Joseph's in 2005. No top seed has won the tournament since Xavier in 2002.
Temple came into the game with the league's best defense (56.8 points) and it kept Rhode Island from ever getting off the blocks.
Cothran, the Rams' leading scorer with 14.7-point average, was 4 of 13 from the field, while Lamonte Ulmer finished with five points, seven below his average.
Fernandez, who had a hand in 16 of the 24 points in a game-opening 24-8 run against St. Bonaventure on Friday, was the catalyst again. The Argentine hit a 3-pointer and two floaters in the lane to stake the Owls to a 7-0 lead. After setting up a layup by Michael Eric, he drove the left side of the lane for another basket.