As the buzzer sounded, sophomore guard Alliya Butts untucked her pink jersey and let out a sigh of relief as she walked alone to the end of the Owls line.
After shaking hands with her opponents, the 5-foot-4 guard reached up and slapped hands with fans as the Owls [18-9, 12-4 American Athletic Conference] went into the locker room following a 72-67 victory against Tulane at McGonigle Hall on Tuesday.
“This was a tough one,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
With the win, the Owls earned their 800th program win and stand alone in third place in The American.
Sophomore guard Khadijah Berger scored a season-high 12 points off the bench.
“It’s a good feeling,” Berger said. “I know coach [Cardoza] harps on me being able to come in and knock down shots and I felt like this was a big game for us.”
The guard also knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the key to give Temple a 57-53 lead with 7:40 remaining in the game. The Owls did not surrender their lead after the bucket.
“Once we started making shots, you know, we feed off of each other,” Cardoza said. “I thought Khadijah came off the bench and gave us a spark.”
Two 3-pointers by Tulane’s Kolby Morgan and Leslie Vorpahl cut the deficit to 70-67 after Butts totaled her fourth turnover of the game on a double-dribble.
Tulane had a chance to tie the game with 12 seconds remaining, but a missed 3-pointer at the top of the key by Tene Thompson forced Tulane to foul. Senior guard Erica Covile sealed the game with a pair of free throws on the Owls’ next possession.
An ugly first quarter put the Owls in an 11-point hole eight minutes into the game.
“We were sleepwalking,” Cardoza said. “We were not really playing with a lot of intensity. We thrive off of getting stops and we weren’t getting stops early.”
The Owls converted one of their six final shots of the half to fall behind the Green Wave 33-27 at the break.
“We were really out of it and focus really more on ourselves,” Berger said. “Towards the end of the game we kind of picked it up more.”
With 6:13 remaining in the third quarter, Covile knocked down a pair of free throws to give Temple a 37-36 advantage, which was the team’s first lead since the 9:42 mark in the first quarter Covile scored 12 points, including shooting 8-of-8 from the foul line.
The Owls struggled defending Tulane’s 6-foot-2 center Chinwe Duru, who scored 10 of her 18 points in the third quarter.
Duru also drew the fourth foul on Ugo Nwaigwe, which sent the graduate center tot the bench with one minute remaining in the third quarter.
“They usually don’t go to their bigs,” Cardoza said. “[Duru’s] not someone who typically gets a lot of shots for them.”
The trouble grew for Temple when Tulane’s Taylor Emery hit a layup at the third quarter buzzer to tie the game at 51 after Butts threw the ball into Emery’s hands chasing the ball out of bounds.
Temple quickly built a 54-51 lead after sophomore guard Donnaizha Fountain nailed a 3-pointer in the right corner 22 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“Our pressure defense caused some turnovers that led to some easy buckets for us and that’s what we thrive off of,” Cardoza said. “We found a way to make shots and slow them down.”
Tulane, which came into Tuesday’s game ranked first in The American in 3-point field goal defense, holding opponents to 28 percent, held the Owls to 7-of-22 shooting.
“We needed to wake up and focus on things that got us to this point,” Cardoza said. “We just had to come up with some rebounds down the stretch.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org