Alliya Butts set the tone early for the Owls.
The sophomore guard, who scored 30 points against Memphis last season, scored 13 of her 21 points in the first half to propel the Owls (7-4, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) to a 82-58 win against the Tigers in their first game of conference play Wednesday.
“It was a complete game especially on the offensive side because we didn’t have a bad quarter,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We got out to a really huge start and defensively that created a lot of opportunities.”
In the first two minutes of the game, sophomore guards Donnaizha Fountain and Butts helped the Owls race out to an 11-0 lead. The Owls never trailed Wednesday night.
“We’ve had some really good practices leading up to this,” Cardoza said. “We say all the time, how we practice is how we play.”
The Tigers used a 10-2 run to pull within three points, 19-16, near the end of the first quarter, their closest margin during the game. But the Owls scored four points to take a seven point lead into the second quarter.
At halftime, the Owls held a 42-26 lead, but Cardoza had a different feeling heading into the locker room Wednesday night. This season, the Owls held the lead in two of their four losses when leading at halftime.
“Throughout the year, we’ve had those quarters where we’ve struggled to score,” Cardoza said. “When we came out in the third quarter, we really took it to them.”
Memphis’ Brianna Wright scored the first bucket to open the half, but Temple jumped to a 17-0 run, missing one shot to widen its lead to 59-28. The Owls held their largest lead of the game when junior Feyonda Fitzgerald hit two free throws to give the Owls a 65-34 lead.
With a 75-49 gap with four minutes remaining, Temple emptied its bench. For majority of the game, the Owls played a seven-player rotation, with six guards and one center.
“We’ve gone small, and it just brings a lot more energy,” Cardoza said. “We have to make hustle plays because we’re a lot smaller. I feel like we’re more focused on the defensive end trying to help each other out and trying to pay attention to the game plan.”
The Tigers had a poor performance shooting from the field, shooting 23-of-59. Their leading scorer, senior guard Ariel Hearn, turned the ball over 5 times, and scored a season-low four points.
“Every time we’ve played [Hearn], she’s found a way to score,” Cardoza said. “Definitely have to give a lot of credit to [Fitzgerald], but as a team, we guarded her. They set a lot of ball screens for her, but we always had someone bigger to help out.”
Sophomore guard Khadijah Berger earned the first start of her career, starting in place of junior center Safiya Martin. In the team’s previous game against Delaware State Dec. 19, Berger scored 11 points in 28 minutes in the Owls’ 100-59 victory.
Temple finished the game shooting 53 percent from the field and scored 35 points off Memphis’ 23 turnovers.
Fitzgerald, Fountain, and sophomore guard Tanaya Atkinson combined to score 46 points, half of the teams total.
“We wanted to make a statement and just come out and have a great start,” Fountain said. “Everything was just falling for us.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at email@example.com or by Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.