More than an hour after their Saturday win against South Florida, the Owls’ celebration at the Liacouras Center carried on.
After the crowd cleared following Temple’s 68-66 win against the then-No. 19 team in the AP Top 25 poll, sophomore guard Donnaizha Fountain’s “Let’s Go Owls!” chants could still be heard reverberating through the empty arena.
“I knew how hungry we were,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We wanted this win badly. … It comes down to people making big plays. I felt like just about everybody out there did that.”
Cardoza waited almost seven years for a win like Saturday’s upset against the Bulls.
The Owls erased a seven-point deficit going into the fourth quarter to knock off South Florida and grab the program’s first victory against a Top 25 opponent since Feb. 25, 2009 against No.13 Xavier University.
The last time the team made it to the NCAA tournament was the 2010-11 season. The victory against the Bulls was an important one for the team as the Owls try to make a push for their first tournament appearance in five years.
“It definitely helps,” Cardoza said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s only the second win against a Top 25 team, and it comes at the right time, the best time. Right now we’re playing pretty good basketball, and we continued that today.”
After defeating their previous three opponents by 18 points or more, the Owls grabbed their fourth-consecutive victory by beating the Bulls.
Cardoza’s team trailed 49-42 heading into the fourth quarter. Senior guard Erica Covile finished off the comeback win on a putback with one second on the clock.
“If the shot was short, all I wanted to do was make the basket,” Covile said. “I was off balance. I didn’t think it was going in. I was just hoping to god.”
Temple’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Alliya Butts, was 1-for-8 from the field through three quarters.
Sophomore guard Tanaya Atkinson helped pick up the Owls’ offense with 13 points through 30 minutes of play. She finished the game with 17 points and also grabbed six rebounds, including four on the offensive end.
“Every time a shot goes up, my job is to crash the boards,” Atkinson said. “I’m not supposed to get back. I’m supposed to just crash. If that’s the reward of getting a bucket, I mean why not just keep crashing?”
The Owls (15-7, 9-2 American Athletic Conference) sit in second place in The American standings behind No. 1 Connecticut with seven games left on their regular season schedule.
Temple plays three games this week. The Owls travel to Cincinnati tonight before Friday’s home game against Houston and Sunday’s contest against UConn at McGonigle Hall.
“The focus can’t change because they are young, and they will sometimes relax and we try our best to keep them focused,” Cardoza said. “Their attention span is really short, so we have to get a lot done in a shorter amount of time.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.