It was Senior Night, and the honored athletes were the ones to provide the spark from start of regulation.
“You definitely want to win this game today,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “Senior Night, you always want your fans to get that last win, but more importantly, make sure your seniors walk off their home court with a victory.”
Dominating the first half behind seniors Natasha Thames and Shi-Heria Shipp, the Temple Owls defeated the Houston Cougars 66-54 on Monday evening in McGonigle Hall.
Though Temple (14-15,8-10) was outscored 35-24 in the second half of its American Athletic Conference bout against Houston (5-24,1-17), unblemished shooting by Owls’ forward Thames highlighted a 23-point halftime lead, which was enough cushion to win.
“In the first half, I definitely felt like I came out strong,” Thames said.
With the victory, Temple has now won two consecutive games leading up to its participation in The American postseason tournament as a fifth or sixth seed, depending on results of a delayed Southern Methodist-Central Florida game.
“It was important for us to get those two wins so we can remember what winning is like,” Cardoza said.
Thames tied the the Owls team-high in scoring with freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, recording 16 points, and also added five rebounds. 14 of the veteran forward’s points were scored in the first period, when she was perfect on five field goal attempts and four free throws.
“Everytime [Thames] touched the basketball, she was in a zone,” Cardoza said.
Temple’s other side of the senior duo, fifth-year guard Shi-Heria Shipp, finished the game with four total points, but tied a team-high with nine rebounds. Shipp also contributed three steals and three assists.
The Owls received an added boost from their bench as sophomore guard Erica Covile and redshirt-sophomore guard Monaye Merritt made significant contributions to Temple’s offensive production, scoring 21 total points, including 12 points and nine points respectively. Covile also shared the team-high in rebounds, pulling down nine.
Houston’s sophomore forward Marche’ Amerson was the game’s high scorer, recording 20 points, and senior center Yasmeen Thompson registered a game-high 15 rebounds.
With 17:10 remaining in the first period, feeding off of five unanswered points, Houston held their only lead of the game with a 5-4 advantage after a layup by Thompson. In the next possession, Shipp missed a jumper, but she followed it with an offensive board and layup to regain the lead.
From that point, Thames and Shipp controlled the period from both ends of the court.
After grabbing the 6-5 lead, Shipp then blocked a Amerson shot in the following possession, and a transition layup for Thames, assisted by Shipp, was the result. Temple proceeded the 6-5 score by outscoring Houston 11-2, including a run of nine unanswered points. In that span, Thames recorded eight points.
With Temple ahead 19-13, Shipp scored on a successful jumpshot at the 9:24 mark, which ignited another 9-0 run for the Owls. The second 9-0 run was part of a stretch of Temple outscoring the Cougars 14-2, giving the Owls a 34-15 lead with just under five minutes left in the half.
To close out the period, in back-to-back possessions, Fitzgerald made a three-point shot and Covile finished a driving layup to give the Owls a 23-point halftime advantage, leading the Houston 42-19.
Even with Houston outscoring Temple in the final period, the Owls led by a many as 27 points, and the closest the Cougars came was within 12 point, which was in the final seconds of regulation.
“Obviously, you don’t want to win the way we won today,” Cardoza said. “I just felt like we didn’t play good basketball today. The second half, it was just a struggle. You’re not happy with how you perform, but you’re happy you were able to get the win.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @BErick1123