Opposing teams have turned up the pressure on the women’s basketball team’s leading scorer, Kamesha Hairston.
The rationale for this approach seems to be universal: The Owls are a weaker team when someone other than Hairston shoots the ball.
A trio of Owls decided to prove this theory wrong Tuesday night at the Liacouras Center.
Hairston’s teammates – Lady Comfort, LaKeisha Eaddy and Fatima Maddox – stepped up to the challenge as the Owls withstood a late-game rally to defeat Saint Joseph’s, 59-53, in their first Atlantic Ten Conference game of the season.
The Owls (11-4 overall, 1-0 A-10) are on a seven-game winning streak.
Hairston finished with 16 points, but most of the offense came from the supporting cast. Eaddy led the team with 17 points, while Comfort scored 16 and grabbed 10 rebounds for her first double-double of the season. Maddox added eight points.
“We’re getting effort from all over the place,” coach Dawn Staley said. “Lady probably played her best game of the season. LaKeisha is constantly getting better. I knew they were going to come in and key in on Kamesha and not really give her the looks or the touches that she’s used to.”
The Owls led 51-36 with 5:38 remaining, when the Hawks (7-7, 0-1) embarked on a 15-4 run. A layup by senior Whitney Ffrench made it a four-point game with less than a minute left.
The Owls inbounded from the opposing baseline on the next possession. Comfort, heaved the ball beyond the mid-court line and found Eaddy behind the Hawks’ defense for an easy layup to give Temple a 57-51 lead with 51 seconds remaining.
Maddox and junior Ashley Morris both hit a free throw with seconds remaining to seal the victory.
“St. Joseph’s is pretty much a second half team,” Comfort said. “Things that they didn’t do in the first half, they definitely do in the second half. You have to be ready for that second half [surge].”
The Owls built a 16-10 advantage with 7:40 remaining in the first half, when Staley inserted three guards – Eaddy, Maddox and Morris – onto the floor with Hairston.
The smaller lineup led the Owls on a 15-6 run over the next four minutes, 31 seconds to give Temple a 15-point lead late in the first stanza.
The smaller lineup brings quickness to the lineup, Eaddy said.
“That’s three [guards] around the perimeter and then Kamesha down low,” Eaddy said. “That also gives us an advantage because [Kamesha] is also a very good guard. So we’re hoping that causes matchup problems all the way around.”
Eaddy scored 11 points and Hairston added eight before intermission.
Comfort went 6-of-8 from the free throw line in the opening period. She ended the half with 14 points, five rebounds and two steals.
The Owls held a 37-26 lead at halftime.
Temple out-rebounded the Hawks, 40-30. The Owls are 10-1 this season when they win the battle of the boards.
Kamesha Hairston was voted the A-10 player of the week Monday, for the fourth time this season.
The senior forward averaged 27 points and 9.5 rebounds in two wins against Florida and Brown last week.
Hairston is averaging a league-leading 22.2 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per contest.
Temple begins a three-game conference road trip Friday against Saint Bonaventure (10-6, 0-1) at 12 p.m.
The Owls will stay in New York to face Fordham (2-13, 0-1) on Jan. 12, before traveling north to play Massachusetts (10-6, 0-1) on Jan. 14.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.