The women’s basketball team had the top-ranked team in the nation on its heels with about two minutes left Sunday.
But with its heaviest hitter absent from the lineup, Temple couldn’t score the knockout.
The Owls fought back from a 15-point second half deficit, but couldn’t hang on to the lead, losing 77-66 to defending national champion Maryland in front of 2,235 at the Liacouras Center.
Playing without Lady Comfort, the Owls surrendered the lead and missed several opportunities to regain the advantage down the stretch. Comfort, a junior center, was suspended by coach Dawn Staley Saturday night for violating team rules.
“It only takes a play or two or three,” Staley said. “[If] we had one more player I think we probably could’ve upset them. But we were probably a player short from it.”
That player could have been Comfort, who was coming off a career-best 25 points against Stony Brook Wednesday. Staley wouldn’t elaborate on Comfort’s violation, but said her suspension is a game-by-game decision.
“We were in the game to win it,” Staley said. “Not one person, not one thing is going to deter us from what we’re trying to do … we won’t skip a beat.
“Of course we would’ve loved to have Lady. We moved on, our players moved on they [focused] on the task at hand and we made it a non-issue.”
The Owls (4-4) trailed the entire game until a pair of free throws from Fatima Maddox gave them a 58-57 lead with 7:11 left. The team held a 62-58 advantage when the Terrapins (12-0) went on 12-0 run to take a commanding 71-62 lead with about one minute remaining.
“I think we grew as a basketball team today,” said Kamesha Hairston, who finished with 28 points, six rebounds and three steals. “You see that we can compete with anyone.”
After cutting the Terrapins lead to two at halftime, the Owls found themselves trailing by double-digits with 13:18 left in the contest.
The Owls willed themselves back into the game by applying a full-court press on defense and by driving to the basket on offense, which put the Terrapins in foul trouble.
Maddox, Hairston and Shenita Landry converted 10 consecutive free throws after the Terrapins entered the penalty with 9:18 remaining togive Temple its first lead of the contest.
“Going into halftime being so close, we had the confidence already,” said Maddox, who finished with 22 points. “So when the second half came, there was no doubt that we could pull it out and come back. We’ve come back from deficits like that before, so there was no lack of confidence in that.”
The Terrapins came out hot early, taking a 15-5 lead on Marissa Coleman’s jumper with 12:28 remaining in the first half. Coleman had six points and nine rebounds in the first stanza and finished the game with 16 points and 10 boards.
Laura Harper, a Cheltenham High School graduate, led the Terrapins with 17 points.
The Owls cut the lead to three with 7:30 left in the first half, thanks to Landry, who had the task of making up for Comfort. The sophomore forward provided the team with a much-needed low-post presence early in the game, scoring eight of her 12 points before halftime.
After the Terrapins regained their 10-point advantage with 3:57 left in the first half, Maddox sparked a 10-2 Owls’ run, hitting two three-pointers and coming up with a key steal that led to a fast-break layup and a 30-28 Terrapin lead at halftime.
Hairston had eight points and Maddox added 10 points before the intermission.
AGAINST THE BEST
The Owls hosted the top-ranked team for the third straight season. They are 0-5 all-time against No. 1 ranked teams, losing to Penn State in 1991 and losing to Tennessee, 52-48, on the road in 2004 and 75-50 last year at the Liacouras Center.
This was the Owls final game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. The team defeated Georgia Tech at home, 76-62, on Nov. 20, but lost to Virginia and North Carolina State on the road. They finished the season 1-3 against ACC teams.
Hairston was named the Owlsports.com November Athlete of the Month. The 6-0 senior forward averaged 21.5 points and eight rebounds in four games, shooting 51 percent from the field. Hairston capped the month with her best performance when she accumulated 30 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in a loss at Virginia on Nov. 29.
Hairston is tied for first in scoring in the Atlantic Ten Conference with La Salle senior Crista Ricketts. Both players have averaged 21.4 points per game through Sunday. Hairston is ninth in the country in scoring and second in the A-10 in rebounding.
The Owls take on Mid-American Conference opponent Miami (Ohio) Dec. 17 at the Liacouras Center. The Owls are 1-1 against MAC teams this season, losing to Bowling Green, 86-67, and defeating Toledo, 61-51, during a two-game Ohio road trip in late November.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.