ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Junior forward Lavoy Allen walked to midcourt seconds after the final buzzer in the Atlantic 10 Conference championship game, smiled and raised three fingers.
No. 17 Temple was once again the conference champion, although this time the top-seeded Owls got a scare from third-seeded Richmond in a 56-52 victory on Sunday.
"All three years we haven't been picked to win the championship or not even come close," Allen said after Temple (29-5) earned its third straight automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. "We were underrated at the beginning of the season and we found a way to get through that and win as a team. This year was the toughest of the three so it definitely feels good to win."
It was not easy.
Ramone Moore hit three free throws in the final 5 seconds to wrap up the school's ninth conference tournament title.
"Once he made it a two-possession game, I was excited," Allen said. "I was ready to get the game over with."
Temple is the No. 5 seed in the East Region; Richmond is the No. 7 seed in the South Region.
Richmond (26-8) came close to dethroning the Owls, rallying from a 12-point, second-half deficit. The Spiders not only had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds but they also missed a couple of shots they normally make with Ryan Butler blowing a fastbreak layup and conference player of the year Kevin Anderson missing a short jumper in the lane in the final minutes.
"It was a fun game to play in," Butler said after Richmond just missed winning its first conference title. "Obviously we would have liked to been on the other side, but Temple is tough. They were tough all year long. It was a great game to play in."
Tournament MVP Juan Fernandez scored 18 points and Brooks and Moore finished with 12 each for Temple, which avenged a 71-54 loss at Richmond last month.
"This is really a wonderful team, we learned how to play together and that was really important," said Fernandez, who missed the Richmond game with a concussion. "We have sure goals and we achieved one winning the Atlantic 10. Now we really want to play that first-round game. It's been two years in a row Temple can't get past that, so it's our job to put Temple in that second round."
Picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, Temple players hugged at halfcourt and jogged around the court high-fiving fans with Fernandez carrying the flag of Argentina.
Anderson stepped up late for Richmond and scored nine of his 14 points in the final 7:06 to get the Spiders close.
Justin Harper and Butler added 10 points apiece and Gonzalvez had nine, going 1 of 5 from long range.
Temple seemed to be in control after Brooks scored eight straight points early in the second half. He capped the run with a 3-pointer that put the Owls ahead 44-32 with 12 minutes play.
The Owls then tried to milk the clock the rest of the game and it very nearly cost them their 10th straight win.
"The first part of the game today they were on their own and we did some really good things," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "Then I interfered later in the game and screwed things up."
Temple did not score a field goal over the final 6:32, with the final eight points coming from the free throw line.
"We hang our hats defensively," Butler said. "We were fine with them holding the ball. We felt if we could get it down to a couple of seconds on the shot clock we could force them to take a shot they didn't want to take. We thought it worked to our advantage."
A layup by Butler and a three-point play by Anderson got Richmond within 49-46 with 4:02 to go and Gonzalvez could have narrowed the lead at 3:32 when he missed the front end of an 1-and-1.
A rebound follow by Anderson closed the gap to 49-48 with 1:17 to play, but Brooks was fouled on the next possession and made both ends of the 1-and-1 for a 51-48 lead with 50.3 seconds to play.
Anderson cut the margin to a point with a drive down the left side of the lane with 39.2 seconds left, but Brooks was fouled and he again made two free throws with 22.1 seconds to go for a 53-50 lead.
Gonzalvez had his shot to tie the game but it hit off the rim and Moore iced the title.
"It was a handoff to Dave," Butler said. "He's hit big shots for us all year. We thought he was going to make it. We wish it went in."
The 52 points were a season low for Richmond.
"Temple plays good defense but we just missed some shots we normally make," said Anderson, who was 1 of 7 as Temple took a 29-25 halftime lead.