That’s what stood as Temple’s margin of victory in its apparent 83–58 mashing of Howard Thursday night.
Temple’s offense looked good, dumping 83 points and boasting career-high scoring nights from seniors Natasha Thames and Shi-Heria Shipp en route to a 50 percent shooting performance. The Owls (6–3) held a double-digit lead for the final 34 minutes and 32 seconds of what appeared to be an easy contest.
They led by a 23-point margin in the first half, put the game on ice just minutes into the second stanza and walked off come buzzer time with a resounding victory on the scoreboard.
Even more resounding, though, would be the somber postgame reaction from the winning side.
As coach Tonya Cardoza filed in grim-faced for the postgame press conference with Thames and Shipp matching her regretful expression on either side of the sixth-year skipper just minutes later, it became clear that this win was a victory on the scoreboard, and only that.
“I wasn’t happy at all,” Cardoza said. “Not before the game, not after the game.”
Yes, the Owls shot 50 percent from the field. They saw two seniors break career-highs in scoring and locked down their best offensive performance of this young season.
And yet, for long periods at a time, they were a defensive mess against a team of lesser talent.
They were out of sync without the ball for long stretches, particularly in the closing minutes of the first half, surrendering 35 points by the break and allowing Howard (3–7) space on the floor en route to a 41 percent shooting percentage from the field in the half, a fair contrast from its 34 percent average entering the game.
While they slowed down the Bison in the latter half once the scoreboard read a blowout result, the Owls still allowed the Bison to best their season averages in both shooting percentage and scoring along with several additional offensive categories.
A team that traditionally prides themselves in defense more so than offense, the Owls played through a win that left them basking in questions rather than the morale-boosting feeling a blowout victory typically provides.
“I’m happy I got my career-high, but it doesn’t feel good because as a team we don’t feel good about this win,” Thames said. “We didn’t execute. I think I’d feel better about it if we had won the right way.”
Temple started off winning the right way in the game’s opening moments.
The Owls built large lead early thanks in part to a 15–0 run amid the first seven minutes. They eclipsed the 70-percent shooting mark for much of the first half, and concluded the break with a lofty 61 percent mark from the floor. They forced turnovers early and kept the Bison on their heels for the better part of the half.
An effort to climb back on part of the Bison was certainly not in the cards on Temple’s behalf, and yet it allowed Howard to turn what was a 23-point deficit during the half into a 14-point game at halftime.
The Owls let Howard match them shot-for-shot out of the gate in the second half, letting that early 23-point lead shrink to a 10-point margin with plenty of time left on the clock. A whole 18 minutes that could have seen Howard tell a much different ending to the story on this night at McGonigle Hall, much like the 61–58 stunner victory Howard pulled off against the Owls a year ago in the nation’s capital.
“I agree with Natasha,” Shipp said. “I felt like yeah I got a career-high, but it wasn’t the way it should’ve been. We just didn’t execute the game plan like the coaches told us. We knew that they were a dribble-penetration team, and we allowed them to do what they wanted. We can’t do that in the next game.”
That next game will see Temple host an 8–1 Villanova Wildcat team, a Big 5 rival whose sole loss came in a narrow 63–60 defeat to fellow-Big 5 member Saint Joseph’s, which dispatched Temple to the tune of a 73–53 victory at McGonigle Hall on Dec. 4.
It’s a game that will surely end in a much graver result than the Thursday win with any similar lapses on part of Temple’s defense.
“I’m happy we won, but I wish we would’ve had a better effort on the defensive end because we know on Sunday, we’re going to have to play defense,” Cardoza said. “If we play defense any way like we did today, it’s not going to be a pretty game.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.