Trailing by as many as 18 points, the Owls won, 82-78, in overtime.
Better late than never.
The women’s basketball team won its season opener, 82-78, in overtime against Illinois.
Until overtime, that is.
In the extra period, senior forward Jasmine Stone took over and led the team in scoring and rebounds with four points and three rebounds. Her efforts, combined with one point each from junior guard Shaqwedia Wallace, senior guard LaKeisha Eaddy and junior center Marli Bennett, were just enough to give Temple the win.
Early on, though, Illinois senior center Jenna Smith, who dropped 15 points on the Owls in the first half, caused problems for the frontcourt foursome of Stone, Bennett and freshmen Victoria Macaulay and Natasha Thames. Each player found herself in foul trouble. Stone, Macaulay and Bennett each picked up two personal fouls, while Thames was called for three while trying to defend Smith.
“We just picked up ticky-tack fouls, fouls we shouldn’t have committed,” coach Tonya Cardoza said.
Defensively, the Illini zone scheme stymied Temple, and the only players who seemed to have any success were sophomore forward Kristen McCarthy and Wallace, who recorded 12 points and nine points, respectively, in the first half. With a combination of Smith’s offense and Temple’s inability to respond, the Owls found themselves down, 43-26, at halftime.
“We just started standing around and not really looking to attack their zone,” Cardoza said. “In the second half, they gained some confidence, and they started moving the ball and finding open areas and ways to score.”
Wallace began the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers. She exploded for 18 points in the second half to slowly chip away at the first-half deficit.
“We thought about just staying together,” Wallace said. “Even though we were down so much, we just stayed [together] as a team and trusted each other.”
Senior point guard LaKeisha Eaddy, who finished with no points in the first half, finally put some points on the board to help the second-half comeback. But more importantly, she led the defensive effort. Eaddy, Wallace and McCarthy combined for nine steals in the second half. Defensive adjustments, such as installing the full-court press at certain points, put the Illini on their heels.
“With the pressure that we were putting on them, they didn’t really have a chance to get Jenna Smith the ball,” Cardoza said.
Toward the end of the second half, as Temple was creeping back into the game, Cardoza put in Stone and matched her up against Smith. Stone won the physical battle, which made the Illini’s go-to player a non-factor toward the end of the game.
“In the second half, we started getting physical with her,” Stone said. “I don’t think she really liked to get pushed around. That kind of got her frustrated.”
The biggest change in momentum came with 15 seconds left in regulation. Temple trailed by three points. McCarthy pulled up for a 3-pointer that would tie the game, and then Illinois freshman guard Adrienne Godbold gave Temple a gift – she fouled McCarthy hard behind the 3-point line and gave McCarthy a trip to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game.
“The funny thing is before the game, Coach said, ‘I want everyone to close their eyes and envision something and envision yourself doing something in the game,’” McCarthy said. “I closed my eyes, and I envisioned myself making free throws.
“I just did what I normally do, take a deep breath, relaxed, I said, ‘These are going in,’” McCarthy added.
And they did go in – all three of them – to tie the game at 75 all and set up the Owls’ overtime win.
“Last year, I don’t know if we could have come back like this, but that just shows our growth as a team,” McCarthy said. “That was a heck of a first game.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.