The women’s basketball team picked up a pair of victories in Philadelphia last month to start its season strongly, beating Drexel on the road and Georgia Tech at the Liacouras Center.
The Owls then left the familiar surroundings of the city to begin a four-game road stretch over a span of eight days.
It proved to be the first real test of the season. In the end, the Owls couldn’t make the grade.
After splitting a pair of games in Ohio, the Owls (3-3) traveled south and dropped two games against Atlantic Coast Conference teams last week.
First, Virginia spoiled Dawn Staley’s return to her alma mater, downing the Owls, 71-65, Wednesday. Then, North Carolina State slipped by the Owls with a 59-57 victory Saturday.
The team finished its four-game road trip with a 1-3 record. The only victory came against Toledo (3-4) Nov. 26.
After holding opponents to 55 points per game last season, the Owls’ defense is surrendering about 61 points a contest. The worst performance came in a loss to Bowling Green (5-1), which lit up the scoreboard for 87 points Nov. 24.
Against North Carolina State (6-2) and Virginia (6-2), the Owls fell short despite the efforts of senior Kamesha Hairston.
Hairston, who is the second-leading scorer in the Atlantic Ten Conference at 21.8 points per game, averaged 22 points during the trip.
The senior played all 40 minutes against Virginia and notched 30 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. She shot 12-of-16 from the field and hit all five of her free throw at tempts.
Against the Wolfpack, Hairston had 23 points and hauled in 16 rebounds, 13 of which came off of the defensive glass.
Hairston had a double-double by halftime, notching 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior Fatima Maddox added 20 points and connected on two of her four three-point attempts.
Hairston and Maddox combined to take 45 of the team’s 68 total shots. The rest of the squad shot just 30 percent from the field and the Owls received only eight points from the bench.
The Wolfpack led by as much as 15 at one point before the Owls, led by Maddox, mounted a furious comeback.
The point guard scored seven straight points to make it a 57-48 game with 3:30 remaining.
Temple then went on a 9-2 run to pull within two points, at 59-57, with 26.4 seconds remaining.
Freshman Jasmine Stone committed a foul on Wolfpack forward Khadija Whittington with 4.5 seconds left, but the junior missed both free throw attempts to leave the door open for the Owls.
It didn’t matter.
Hairston’s last-second shot failed to find the hoop and the Owls’ comeback fell short.
Although they out-rebounded the Wolfpack,
43-34, the team still struggled to take care of the ball on the offensive side. The Owls nearly committed two turnovers (13) for each of their seven assists.
The Wolfpack utilized a balanced offensive
attack, led by Whittington and senior Keisha Brown, to keep the Owls’ defense guessing. Whittington finished the game with 11 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Brown chipped in with 14 points.
Against Virginia three days earlier, the Owls were tied, 55-55, with less than seven minutes remaining in the contest. But ultimately, the Owls were burned by poor shooting – hitting only eight of 28 shots in the second half – and turnovers – committing 19 in the game.
Cavaliers freshman Monica Wright contributed to the Owls’ problems, recording 26 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
The Owls begin a four-game home stretch with a game against Stony Brook (2-3) Wednesday.
The team then prepares for Sunday’s showdown against defending national champion Maryland (7-0 overall), the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.