For the first time in the Hall of Fame Challenge, the fate of the Owls was not decided until late in the game.
After two games decided by 20 or more points to start the tournament, Temple’s game against Alabama on Sunday afternoon came down to the final minutes. The Crimson Tide were able to outlast the Owls, winning 58-51.
Coach Tonya Cardoza said the weekend showed her what her team is capable of.
“I learned that we can be a better team if we stay more disciplined and focused,” Caroza said. “We just have to stay in the gym and work at it and work overtime. Our guys have to get in the gym, get up extra shots and just become a better basketball team.”
The Owls started the game cold and found themselves in a dangerous position down by double digits about midway through the first half. Alabama was able to build an 18-8 lead nine minutes into the game.
Temple reversed its fortunes with a 14-4 run in response to the wide margin. With the jolt of offense, the game was deadlocked at 22-22 with 3:52 to go, and the Owls held tough the rest of the period as the two teams went into the half tied at 27.
The Crimson Tide came out after the break strong, however. A lay-up and an ensuing 3-point play followed by a 3-point basket fueled Alabama to a 10-2 start in the second half.
Cardoza’s team once again had to battle back from a double-digit deficit after it found itself down 50-37 with 8:46 to go in the game.
The Owls showed signs of life closing the gap to five with 4:47 to go in the game. Senior guard Tyonna Williams led the comeback for Temple, sinking 10 of her game-high 15 points in the second half including two 3-point shots down the stretch.
Cardoza said the resilience of her players after falling behind tells her a lot about them.
“Dealing with a bunch of young guys, and letting them know no matter what you’re always going to fight until the very end, it gives yourself a chance,” Cardoza said. “Today even though they got down double digits we cut it to five and we still had something left in us.”
Despite their efforts, the Owls would not get any closer to the Alabama lead. Temple could not get within five points as the Crimson Tide maintained a cushion on the scoreboard the rest of the way.
Offensive struggles have hurt Temple in its past two losses. The team went 19 for 70 from the floor and combined to make less than 30 percent of its shots in the last two contests.
“I think I lot of it is just confidence,” Cardoza said. “We missed some shots early and I think we just worried too much about not making shots and thinking about the last shot instead of concentrating and focusing on the next. We’ve gotten wide open shots and just haven’t been knocking them down.”
A big part of the Owls’ offensive deficiencies is the lack of scoring from sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago. She went 3 of 15 from the field and missed all four attempts she took from 3-point range, resulting in just six points.
Fitzgerald, who was averaging 20 points per game in her first three contests, has been held to single digits in her last two, scoring a total of 12 points over that stretch.
“She just has to be a little more patient,” Cardoza said. “Right now she’s pressing feeling like she needs to score for us. She just has to settle down and take her shot.”
“Right now she’s disappointed in herself because she’s not making shots,” Cardoza added. “We have to get her to focus on something other than on scoring. The scoring will come, but right now she’s pressing a little bit.”
The Owls (2-3) will have a week off before they take on Harvard in their final game of the tournament next Sunday.
Junior guard Erica Covile had nine points to lead the Owls in the first half, but failed to score in the final frame of play. With 10 rebounds, she was one point away from a double-double … Prior to the last two games, the last time Fitzgerald was held to single digits was last season against Cincinnati, when she was held scoreless. She had gone eight straight games scoring in double figures … Through five games last season, Temple was 4-1.