Feyonda Fitzgerald’s crossed over her defender and pulled up for a jump shot from the free-throw line with a chance to upset South Florida, the No. 19 in the AP Top 25 poll, on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
The junior guard’s shot missed off the front of the rim, but the Owls’ lone senior, Erica Covile, corralled the miss. As Covile was falling away from the basket it, she banked the ball off the glass and through the net with one-second left.
Covile sealed the Owls’ (14-7, 9-2 American Athletic Conference) 68-66 victory against South Florida, the second victory against a ranked opponent in coach Tonya Cardoza’s career, by knocking the ball out of Bulls’ senior guard Courtney Williams’ hands on the final possession of the game.
“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.”
The two teams, who came into the game tied for second in The American conference standings, wrestled for the lead over the last two minutes of play.
Sophomore guard Donnaizha Fountain put the the Owls up 66-63 with 1:54 left in the game on a 3-point shot from the top of the key off a drive and kick from Fitzgerald. Williams tied the game with a contested 3-point shot one minute later.
A jumper from Fitzgerald from the top left corner of the key gave the Owls a two-point edge before two free throws from Bulls’ guard Shaleth Stringfield set the stage for Covile.
“That layup that Erica makes at the end, we missed those earlier in the game,” Cardoza said. “The game is on the line, she gets the offensive rebound and wins the game for us. It comes down to people making big plays.”
Cardoza’s squad trailed 49-42 at the end of the three quarters. At that time the Owls’ leading scorer, sophomore guard Alliya Butts, was 1-for-8 from the field, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range.
Butts missed her first attempt of the fourth quarter, but she made her next two 3-point attempts to give Temple a 55-54 lead with 7:15 left in the game.
“Alliya, you know, she was just waiting for her moment,” Cardoza said. “She was sulking a little because they weren’t falling for her, but she stayed with it.”
On a night when the Owls’ top two scorers, Butts and Fitzgerald, went a combined 10-of-35 from the field, Tanya Atkinson helped provide an offensive punch for Temple.
The sophomore guard netted 17 points, making 7-of-11 shots from the field. She added six rebounds, including four on the offensive glass.
“Every time a shot goes up, my job is to crash the board,” Atkinson said. “I’m not supposed to get back, I’m supposed to crash. So if that’s the reward of getting a bucket, I mean why not just keep crashing even if it goes in or not.”
Owen McCue and Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org