A week ago, Tiarra East found the ball in her hands as the clock wound down against Southern Methodist. Temple Women’s Basketball had a chance to pick up an important road win against the Mustangs on Jan. 24, and East’s three-pointer would have won the game.
East ended up making the shot, but she didn’t release the ball in time, and the Owls fell 68-66. When she had the ball with the game in her hands on Wednesday, she didn’t let history repeat itself.
Temple was down by two points but had the ball with 15 seconds left. East gathered a long rebound behind the three-point line, and this time, she got her shot off in time, drilling it as the buzzer rang out. Her teammates quickly mobbed her at center court and celebrated the gutsy win.
Temple (12-9, 6-3 American Athletic Conference) beat Wichita State (4-16, 2-8 AAC) 66-65 Wednesday night at The Liacouras Center. The Owls avoided losing another game to a low-ranking AAC opponent as they continue to battle for a spot near the top of the conference standings.
“I knew I had to knock the shot down,” East said. “Everyone was telling me I was going to make another one, and I got another opportunity today and knocked it down.”
The Owls faced a lot of frustration leading up to the climax of the contest. They jumped out to a 12-2 first-quarter lead thanks largely to guard Aleah Nelson’s eight points in the first three minutes. However, the Shockers kept chipping away and eventually built a nine-point lead in the third quarter.
Temple shot just 29 percent from the field in the first half and were unable to recapture its early shot-making. Nelson finished with 13 points on an inefficient 4-14 shooting from the field.
Temple struggled to take care of the ball, turning it over an uncharacteristic 13 times in the first half. The Owls were able to clean things up in the second half committing only six turnovers and crawling back into the game.
“When you’re passing the ball to them and they’re scoring, it gets a little deflating,” said head coach Diane Richardson. “We saw that lull in the second quarter, and we had to get our heads up and eliminate those turnovers.”
Guard Demi Washington committed a personal foul on a fastbreak about six minutes into the third quarter, and Richardson’s anger boiled over as she slammed both her fists against the scorers’ table. Things seemed bleak for the Owls.
Defense saved the Owls, keeping the game close while their offense struggled. They held Wichita State to 41 percent shooting from the field and forced 17 turnovers. The Shockers found success from three-point land going 6-13 from deep, which kept them in front until the fourth quarter.
“We talked about energy and effort in the timeouts, and they stepped up,” Richardson said. “They really pushed each other in the huddles and were talking to each other and lifting each other up, which is really encouraging as a staff to see them trying to take over the game.”
Temple was without freshman reserve center Jaleesa Molina, forcing center Denise Solis into extended minutes. Forwards Ines Piper and Rayne Tucker both had to play with four fouls due to Molina’s absence.
However, Tucker and Washington anchored Temple’s scoring in the fourth quarter, and Tucker hit a layup to tie the game with 44 seconds left in the contest. Tucker finished with nine points on 3-4 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. East sealed the deal, and the Owls escaped with another conference victory.
“If I didn’t shoot I knew they would be mad at me,” Tucker said. “They tell me all the time to shoot the ball more, especially on that shot right there. We had been working on that all week, so I had to knock that one down.”
Temple will look to keep climbing the conference standings when they travel to North Carolina for a rematch with Charlotte (12-8, 5-3 AAC) on Feb. 4 at 2 p.m.