All Tonya Cardoza has asked from her players this season is that they fight for 40 minutes of play.
With their backs against the wall in what could be their last game of the season, the Owls battled for 40 minutes regardless of the score, but it wasn’t enough.
Despite diving on the floor for loose balls, hustling up and down the court until the final buzzer, and trimming an 18-point deficit to five, Temple fell to East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal, 76-71.
“We talked about it throughout [the game],” Cardoza, in her seventh season as Owls coach, said of her team’s fight. “We just have to keep fighting and get ourselves back in the game. They believe in each other and they kept fighting while we were chipping away.”
As has been the case many times this season, the Owls were stagnant offensively to start the game. The Pirates took advantage and held a double-digit lead for the early part of the half.
Senior guard Tyonna Williams, who recorded her 1,000th career point in the contest, and sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald helped Temple get back in the game.
The two guards combined for 19 first-half points and cut the East Carolina lead down to five with just more than four minutes to play in the half.
However, Tonya Cardoza’s squad did not record a field goal for the last 5 minutes, 15 seconds of the half, and a 10-4 run by the Pirates to close the period left Temple trailing 40-29 at the break.
Cardoza looks at the Owls’ rough half as a result of her team putting too much pressure on itself in a game that may have decided the fate of its season.
“I felt like we came out really excited, emotions really high and that got the best of us,” Cardoza said. “We dug ourselves in a hole, not from a lack of effort. I just think we wanted to win so bad that we were playing out of our minds. We just weren’t concentrating enough because of wanting to win so badly.”
In addition to their offensive woes, two of the Owls’ biggest problems in both halves were limiting second-chance opportunities and being careless with the ball.
The Pirates secured 16 offensive rebounds on the day, which resulted in 22 second-chance points. East Carolina took advantage of the Owls’ 20 turnovers, and built their lead up to 18 at its peak in the second half.
Just when it seemed like Cardoza’s team was done, down by 18 in the second half, it showed the fight its coach has been demanding from her players all season.
With aggressive defense and driving into the lane at the other end of the floor, Temple clawed its way back into the game.
With 1:14 remaining in the game, Williams converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to cut the East Carolina lead down to five.
The Owls couldn’t finish the comeback bid, but Cardoza said she is proud of her team.
“We had a chance to cut it to three when they missed some free throws,” Cardoza said. “But even then, I thought no matter what the score was, we were going out punching. I like that about my team.”
After their tournament exit, all that’s left to do now for the Owls is wait. At 16-16 overall, and with a 12-6 record in The American, Temple’s postseason aspirations remain in question.
Cardoza said she hopes her team can receive an invitation from the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Williams scored point No. 1000 in her career in the game on a first-half free throw … In its two games against East Carolina this season, Temple has combined for 46 turnovers … Temple did not lead once in the game.
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.