Following a loss to Big 5 rival Villanova, coach Tonya Cardoza pleaded with her team to be something different.
The Owls heeded her advice in a comeback victory Sunday night against conference foe Memphis, 58-57.
After trailing for more than 30 minutes, Temple (5-8, 1-0 The American) rallied in the second half after trailing by as much as nine points.
For the season, the Owls have been in many situations like Sunday night, trailing in the second half and making a run to get within striking distance. But the difference against Memphis, Cardoza said, was that the team stepped up, which it was unable to do in the past.
“We’ve been in this type of situation before, where we dug ourselves a hole,” Cardoza said. “But this time, we found ways to make plays … we had to make huge plays down the stretch.”
The visiting Owls were led by guards Feyonda Fitzgerald and Tyonna Williams, who scored 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Fitzgerald, who was a catalyst in the team’s second half surge, scored all of her points in the second half and sunk a pair of free throws with 2 minutes, 51 seconds remaining to give Temple its first lead since early in the first half.
“It was good to see them make shots because we needed them to make shots, and I feel like [Fitzgerald] had a great second half and [Williams] didn’t take a lot of shots, but the ones she did were huge,” Cardoza said. “They just played with a lot of confidence on the offensive end.”
“They didn’t worry about making mistakes or the shots that they were missing,” Cardoza added. “They were confident that the next one was going in.”
For Fitzgerald and Williams, it was an opportunity for a fresh start. Coming off a 1-of-9 shooting performance against Villanova on Dec. 22 for three points, Fitzgerald was able to move past her struggles and refocus.
After her off-balance jump shot gave Temple a 51-50 lead with 1:14 left in the game, the Owls dug in defensively and forced a Memphis (6-6, 0-1 The American) turnover.
On the following possession, junior forward Erica Covile buried a 3-pointer to give the Owls the lead for good with just less than a minute to go.
Covile, who finished the game with 12 points and 13 rebounds, notched her fourth double-double of the season and is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds through her last four games.
“We need her to get double-doubles,” Cardoza said. “… She is a quit kid who doesn’t demand the basketball, but we want her to be aggressive and assertive … I think she realizes how important she is to our team and we need her to be solid every night,” Cardoza said.
Coming into the game, the Tigers were shooting nearly 40 percent from field, but were held to 33 percent in Sunday’s contest. As the offense struggled to gain any traction all game, the Owls’ defensive effort helped the team climb back into it.
“Our defensive intensity was something different than it has been in the past,” Cardoza said. “We are playing against one of the top scorers in our league [Memphis junior Ariel Hearn] and we were able to hold her … we didn’t let them take advantage of us.”
The Owls only had nine available players on Sunday night … The team shot 80 percent from the free-throw line, which is the second-highest percentage this season … The Owls have grabbed 12 or more offensive rebounds in every game this season … Sunday marked the third time that Temple was outrebounded by its opponent and still won the game.
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.