Fitzgerald’s heroics lift Owls to quarterfinals

Sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald puts up the eventual game-winning jump shot in the women's basketball team's 80-79 overtime victory against North Carolina State Thursday night in the WNIT's third round. The Owls will visit Middle Tennessee for a quarterfinal matchup Sunday at 5 p.m. EST. | Donald Otto TTN
Sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald puts up the eventual game-winning jump shot in the women's basketball team's 80-79 overtime victory against North Carolina State Thursday night in the WNIT's third round. The Owls will visit Middle Tennessee for a quarterfinal matchup Sunday at 5 p.m. EST. | Donald Otto TTN

Owls coach Tonya Cardoza shouted out toward Feyonda Fitzgerald, telling her to shoot the ball once the sophomore guard had possession in open space with 6 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first half. Instead, Fitzgerald passed up on a wide-open jump-shot opportunity, opting to dish the ball off.

Once Temple’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament third-round matchup with North Carolina State had entered an overtime period, though, the Norfolk, Virginia native didn’t shy away from such scoring opportunities. She scored eight of the team’s 11 points in the extra period, and with 1.2 seconds remaining, banked home a game-winning jumper that eventually sealed Temple’s 80-79 victory Thursday night at McGonigle Hall.

“Feyonda couldn’t make a shot,” Cardoza said of Fitzgerald’s game, prior to the overtime. “She couldn’t even make a layup, but she made the shot to win us the game.”

The Owls started the game quickly, taking a 13-7 lead, but the Wolfpack responded with a 20-3 run to take a commanding advantage with 5:01 remaining in the first half. The Owls finished the first half by cutting the lead to seven behind two 3-pointers from freshman guard Alliya Butts and senior guard Tyonna Williams.

“I have to be confident with the ball in my hands,” Fitzgerald said. “[Cardoza] wants me to have the ball in my hands and be able to score.”

Once Cardoza saw that Fitzgerald had the best matchup, she switched the play, drawing up another in which Fitzgerald would get the ball.

After Fitzgerald started each of Temple’s 30 games last season and averaged 12.9 points, the sophomore lost her starting spot to Butts in late December, and has averaged 11 points per game while playing in a sixth-man role for the majority of the season.

“This whole year, [Fitzgerald] has second-guessed herself,” Cardoza said. “I feel that when she is open, she needs to have confidence. She can’t be passive. We knew that Feyonda was going to have the ball in her hands at the end.”

NC State had its opportunity to win the game, but redshirt-senior Len’Nique Brown-Hoskin back-rimmed a 3-pointer. That miss followed a layup from junior forward Erica Covile to tie the game with 25 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Owls shot 38.1 percent from the field, while NC State shot 45.9 percent. The Owls responded well, though, by answering the Wolfpack when they had to.

“We knew coming in that this game would be hard,” Cardoza said. “We started the game making shots and when we don’t make shots, we go into the tank. We want to continue to fight. When we were down big, we just wanted to chip away. We were smart when we attacked.”

The difference came at the foul line where the Owls shot 28 free throws to NC State’s 19. The Owls made 21 of their attempts, while the Wolfpack hit 16 of theirs.

As both teams combined for 40 fouls in the contest, senior guard Tyonna Williams said the Owls took advantage with aggressive play to the basket.

“We saw how the referees were calling the game,” Williams said. “We took advantage of the fouls called by the referees and we hit our free throws.”

Freshman guard Tanaya Atkinson led the Owls with 17 points, while Butts added 16.

After Temple finished the regular season with a 16-16 record, they were one of the last teams selected for the 64-team NIT. Now, they will be one of the final eight teams remaining when tournament play starts back up this weekend.

“This is a great win for us,” Cardoza said. “For us to be one of the last teams in the tournament and to be still alive means a lot. This was an emotional game playing in front of our home crowd. … Nobody gave up, we fought to the end and we didn’t fold because that’s not who we are.”

Loose notes

With the win, Cardoza now has a 5-1 coaching record in the NIT … Williams ended up with 12 points in her final home game at McGonigle Hall … NC State guard Dominique Wilson led all scorers with 18 points … The Owls will play at Middle Tennessee on Sunday, March 29 at 5 p.m EST.

Dalton Balthaser can be reached at dalton.balthaser@temple.edu or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser.

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