After junior guard Tanaya Atkinson missed the first of two free throws, St. Joseph’s student section at Hagan Arena chanted, “You let your whole team down.”
It was a bold statement coming from the fans of a team losing by 20 points with just more than a minute to go in the game.
Atkinson made her second free throw to score the last of her 24 points, which helped lead the Owls to an 86-70 victory against the Hawks in their season opener.
Temple had lost its past four meetings against the Big 5 rival prior to Friday night.
“I’m happy that we finally got the monkey off our back and beat them,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “They’ve been holding this series the last few years, so I’m happy that we got that win, just not happy how we finished those last four minutes. We were on our way to a 30-point win basically and once that stopped, there was a little bit of drop off.”
The Owls were winning by 29 points with four minutes and 35 seconds to go in the game. The Hawks went on a 16-3 run in the last four minutes, pressuring Temple every chance they had.
“We started getting sloppy with it, so I thought we could’ve done better towards the end,” junior guard Donnaizha Fountain said. “I think that we weren’t expecting them to put that kind of pressure on towards the end of the game, so we just didn’t have time to adjust to it.”
The Owls took an early lead, largely thanks to the initial scoring burst by senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald. She put up 13 points and went 4-for-6 from the field in the first quarter.
By the end of the night, Temple had four players who scored in double figures. Fountain added 20 points and junior guard Alliya Butts scored 12. Butts also had four steals to lead the team.
As Temple’s lead grew, Cardoza saw an opportunity to play her less experienced players, including three freshmen.
“When I saw the lead, I’m not one of those teams that looks to run up the score or anything like that, and that was a perfect opportunity for me to get other people on the court,” Cardoza said. “The outcome while they were out there wasn’t what I wanted, but at least they got game experience, and that’s always important down the road.”
Eleven different athletes saw playing time for Temple, and two helped give the Owls the height on the court they lacked last season when they predominately used a five-guard lineup. Freshman forward Shantay Taylor and senior foward Monasia Bolduc, both over six feet tall, helped give the guards more options.
The pair combined for 10 points and eight rebounds.
“I think our bigs were visible and the past couple years, they haven’t really been visible in the offensive side,” Cardoza said. “For Monasia to come in and be a presence and Shantay to come in and be a presence, that was good to see. It takes some of the pressure off the perimeter players that feel like they have to score every time down knowing that they can throw the ball inside and have something good happen.”
Senior center Safiya Martin earned a spot in the starting lineup after only starting five games last year. She also used her height to her advantage, tallying three blocks.
While the game wasn’t extremely competitive, Temple still recognizes that the game is an important step toward winning the Big 5 title. The Owls split their four Big 5 games last season, including a loss where they allowed 28 offensive rebounds against the University of Pennsylvania and a loss to the Hawks.
Winning the Big 5 title would give the Owls bragging rights in the city.
“We are all in Philly,” Fountain said. “So we want to be the best in Philly. We think we’re the best, we know we’re the best, and now we’ve got to prove to them that we’re the best.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.