When Tyonna Williams prepared to walk on the floor for her final time as an Owl at McGonigle Hall, she had a problem.
It was senior night for the Fort Washington, Maryland native, and her family was nowhere in sight for the pregame festivities in her honor.
Her family members, who were running late, were supposed to accompany Williams on her walk to center court to accept her senior plaque.
Instead, Williams’ coach during the entirety of her four-year Temple tenure, Tonya Cardoza, joined the senior on her final walk.
“She said, ‘Even though your family’s not here, I’m honored to walk you out,’” Williams said. “Seeing the plaque and the picture of me and here — it symbolizes our relationship. She’s really like a second mom to me.”
Williams knew this day was coming, but what she didn’t know it how important the day would be for her and her team.
With a matchup against East Carolina and a chance to move into fourth place in the conference standings, the game’s implications became more than just a senior night.
A win would also propel the Owls to a .500 winning percentage, something the Owls have not had since November 2014.
With the goal clear in the team’s mind, the Owls (15-15, 11-6 The American) defeated East Carolina, 79-69, in William’s final home game as an Owl.
“This is top,” Williams said. “Playing against a good team like East Carolina – there was so much at stake for this game and then it fell on our senior night. So this, hands down, is the best moment [of the season].”
For the rest of the team, the goal was clear – send Williams out as a winner.
“Whenever you can send your senior out with a win in their last home game is always special and I felt like today, more so than any time, our players really did play for Tyonna,” Cardoza said. “They wanted to send Tyonna out with a victory.”
“It’s a good feeling,” junior Erica Covile added. “I didn’t want her to go out with a loss.”
For Williams, who scored 13 points, none of them were more important than the final two.
With eight seconds remaining and the Owls ahead 77-69, Williams stepped to the foul line with the chance to score her final points as an Owl.
Williams calmly made both and when the horn sounded, Williams was subbed out for sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald.
With a standing ovation from fans and her team, Williams walked to the bench to embrace Cardoza.
“You can’t explain it, honestly,” Williams said of the free throws. “It was emotional. I was trying to hold back tears, which I did. It’s a great day to be an Owl for me.”
For Cardoza, the moment was just as special. She has seen Williams grow from a freshman reserve to senior leader.
“Tyonna, like she said, is a daughter to me,” Cardoza said. “She’s someone who has been really, really special. The moment I saw her on the recruiting trail, I knew that she was a kid that I wanted on my team and from Day 1, she has been a leader, [and] an emotional, passionate player. I’ve always said I’d love to coach a bunch of kids like Tyonna.”
While the pregame honors were all about Williams, Cardoza said the game itself was far from that. The senior knew she had a game to play, Cardoza said, and she had to be the team’s leader for such an important game.
“She never let [the game] be about her,” Cardoza said. “It was always about her teammates and making sure they did their part and keeping their heads in it. That’s what she is all about. I love her and I’m happy that she was able to go out like this.”
Michal Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.