With reserve guards junior Rateska Brown and redshirt-sophomore Monaye Merritt combining for 25 points scored, the Temple Owls defeated American Athletic Conference foe Central Florida 64-54 on Saturday in Orlando, FL.
Temple’s (13-15,7-10) victory against Central Florida (10-18,3-14) served as a crucial performance as the Owls’ win ended a four-game losing streak against conference opponents and secured a top six berth in The American postseason tournament. Temple currently ranks sixth in the conference, but it can finish as high as fifth.
Three different Owls scored in double figures, but it was Brown and Merritt who led the offensive charge for Temple, scoring 13 and 12 points respectively. Brown scored three times from three-point range, while Merritt recorded five rebounds and two steals. The reserve duo tied for a team-high three assists.
Temple’s third double-digit scorer was freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, who scored ten points. Fifth-year guard Shi-Heria Shipp, and sophomore guard Erica Covile, who came off of the bench for the first time this season, tied for the team’s lead in rebounds, pulling down seven board each.
Central Florida was led by freshman guard Zykira Lewis, who scored 14 points, and redshirt junior forward Brittini Montgomery, who added 12 points.
Though both teams shot 37 percent from the field, and the Knights held the rebound advantage 40-37, the advantage came from the charity strip for the Owls. With a game-high 22 free throw attempts, Temple shot 73 percent, while Central Florida made 11 of its 17 tries from the line.
Though the 27-27 halftime score gave the impression of a standstill, the Knights jumped out to a large lead early on, and appeared to have a clear advantage.
With 12:32 remaining in the first period, Lewis scored on a fastbreak layup, which capped off a 8-0 run, and gave UCF a 12-2 lead.
Though the Owls battled back, the Knights led for the entirety of the period until an effort by Temple’s bench in the final minutes of the half. UCF led 27-20 with 3:41 remaining in the period, but Brown, freshman center Safiya Martin, and sophomore guard Erica Covile ended the half with a 7-0 run, which tied the game for the first time of the night.
Temple carried the momentum of the final first half minutes to the second period, where it reversed its fortunes .
Several lead changes highlighted the first minutes of the period, but the Owls used a sequence of three point shooting to give them a lead they would not surrender. With nearly six minutes elapsed, and UCF leading 31-30 after a Montgomery score, Temple pushed past the Knights with three consecutive possessions ending in three-point plays. Brown and junior guard Tyonna Williams powered a 9-2 run, going a combined three-for-three from behind the arc. The short run gave Temple a 39-33 lead.
Though a UCF three-point field goal cut the Owls steady lead to one with 6:55 remaining, Temple did not relinquish the lead for the remainder of regulation, going ahead by as many as 11.
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @BErick1123