The fouls piled up to no end on Tuesday night.
Temple amassed 42 total personal fouls as a team and enabled No. 21 Michigan St. to come away with 29 points at the foul line in a 74-70 Spartans win in non-conference action at McGonigle Hall.
The Owls scrapped from beginning to end. They clawed through foul trouble and matched Michigan St. shot for shot for about 58 minutes until the wheels fell off late, and that menacing figure of 42 glared at them when it came time to reflect on what could have been against a ranked Spartans squad.
“We just have to be smarter,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We talk about it all the time when the game first starts. ‘Let’s pay attention to how the refs are calling it’ and it just so happened that they were calling anything and everything. We didn’t make the adjustments.”
Although the fouls came early, so did the Temple buckets as graduate-senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp led the Owls with two jumpers in an 8-0 run jumped Temple out to an 11-4 team over a favored Michigan St. side.
Michigan St. would later climb back to make it a game, and a back and forth one at that.
The first half saw the Owls make several stingy defensive plays as well as a hot shot courtesy of freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, who went on to break out for a career-high of 24 points.
The freshman scored 13 of her 24 points in the half including Temple’s last eight of the half to help the Owls take a 32-28 lead into halftime.
Fitzgerald also knocked down a key three-point shot that brought Temple within one with 6:43 left to play and celebrated with a clap and an extra skip on her way back down to the defensive end reflective of the Temple rookie’s increased confidence.
“The more I play, the more I’m getting used to the atmosphere and how college goes I guess,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we did okay as a team. I did okay, but it doesn’t mean anything if we didn’t win. I’d rather win than do good.”
Temple hung tight until the Spartans made it a four-point contest with 1:09 left to play and Fitzgerald couldn’t hit another shot from long-range on the ensuing possession.
Overall, the two teams knotted the score eight times, while the game saw a total of five lead changes throughout.
The Spartans shot 50 percent (13 for 26) in the game’s second frame as opposed to 28.6 percent (8 for 28) in the first half. A team-wide 29 for 36 performance from the foul line including 18 second half free-throw points proved to be the game-changer once the clock hit zero.
As senior forward Natasha Thames picked up two fouls in the game’s first four minutes, Cardoza gave freshman center Safiya Martin her busiest day in an Owls uniform with 14 minutes on the floor.
Fellow freshman Taylor Robinson chipped in 10 minutes in the post position, while Thames was limited to 15 minutes on the floor and two rebounds. The senior eventually fouled out with 3:17 left to play.
With Temple’s top rebounder in Thames limited to the bench for long periods at a time and a freshman duo at center playing significant minutes off the bench, Michigan St. outrebounded the Owls 42-30 as a team.
“We had at least four guys on the bench with two fouls [in the first half],” Cardoza said. “With Natasha playing 15 minutes for us, it’s going to be hard to win basketball games if she’s not on the floor rebounding and playing defense. The fact that she was on the floor for 15 minutes and had two rebounds, that’s going to make it difficult to win games.”
“We had two freshman post players step up,” Cardoza added. “Safiya stepped in and played 13 minutes for us and that’s promising. Taylor got in foul trouble tonight, but our two freshman post players have shown me a lot in the past couple games and hopefully they’ll continue to get better.”
Junior guard Tyonna Williams chipped in 14 points including two second half 3-point baskets.
Williams said there were two hard lessons learned that the team can take into Saturday’s home bout with the University of Oakland and in later contests as the season unfolds.
“I’d say one lesson we learned is we can’t get into foul trouble,” Williams said. “We have to make adjustments. Me, Natasha and Erica in that first half, we all sat after the first nine minutes I think. We were all on the bench. We have to make adjustments. The second lesson was just to keep fighting like we did today. Even though we didn’t win this game, we still fought until the end and that’s one thing we can carry into the rest of the season.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.