While watching her team play Harvard in the team’s finale of the Hall of Fame Tournament Challenge, coach Tonya Cardoza saw a passion and intensity that she wasn’t seen all season.
This new energy allowed for the Owls to recover from a slow start and take advantage of a strong second-half performance, propelling the team to an 81-69 victory over the Crimson.
“There were a lot of things that weren’t going our way and we didn’t quiet, we didn’t fold,” Cardoza said. “We kept fighting … I just felt our guys maintainer their composure.”
Temple (3-3) was led by senior guard Tanya Atkinson, who scored 20 points and seven rebounds in her homecoming. The New Haven, Connecticut native, who was named MVP, has now reached double figures in scoring in all but two of the team’s six games.
In a back-and-forth second half with nine lead changes, the two teams traded leads for the first 10 minutes of the second half.
But then with 10:38 left in the game, the Owls were able to take a 53-52 lead, courtesy of an Alliya Butts layup, which put the Owls ahead for good.
During the next six minutes, the Owls would go on a 15-6 run to take a 68-58 lead to pull away from the Crimson on the back of Butts, a freshman, who scored all seven of her points during the six-minute span.
“We had to work our tails off to limit certain things and I think we did a good job,” Cardoza said.
After a slow first half, where the team shot 31 percent from the field and outrebounded the Crimson by nine, the Owls went into halftime down 34-32, despite Harvard shooting nearly 40 percent from the field.
“We didn’t knock down shots early … we had guys in foul trouble … but we were confident that if we stuck together and grinded it out, we could pull out a win,” Cardoza said.
The Owls were able to remain close in the first half due to their ability to force turnovers. Temple harassed Harvard into 12 first half turnovers, which lead to 12 points for Temple. Harvard came into the game averaging 20 turnovers per game, and the Owls knew they could take advantage.
“We knew we were undersized so he had to put a lot of pressure on the basketball and force the ball handlers to do something other than stand out there and pick us apart,” Cardoza said. “So we decided to put tremendous pressure on the basketball … and try to disrupt them a little bit.”
For the game, Temple was able to force 17 Harvard turnovers, which lead to 24 points off turnovers. Coming into the game, the Owls were only forcing 14 turnovers per game.
The Owls also got a key contribution from freshman guard Khadijah Berger. Berger, who came in averaging zero points per game and one rebound per game, scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds. Coming into the game, Berger had only attempted seven shots and tonight she made four of her six attempts.
“Khadijah stepped up for us,” Cardoza said. “She hadn’t made a bucket all season and making four of six from the three point line – that was huge for us.”
Temple was also able to hold Harvard to 33 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent from 3-point range. For the season, Harvard came in shooting nearly 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.
“I think we were rushing them, getting them out of their comfort zone,” Cardoza said. “With our guys it got them easy looks too and we really did feed off how we were playing defensively.”
The Owls were also able to withstand a monster game from Harvard forward Temi Fagbenle. The 6-foot-4 senior, who came in averaging 14 points per game and 11 rebounds per game, finished the game with 23 points and 24 rebounds.
“Obviously they have a great player in Temi,” Cardoza said. “She is hard to guard. I don’t think a lot of people can guard her one on one.”
The Owls finished the Hall of Fame Women’s challenge with a 2-2 record, with wins over Georgetown and Harvard and losses to Alabama and Kansas.
Up next for the Owls is a home matchup at the Liacouras Center against the Delaware Blue Hens (2-3) on Dec. 3. at 7 p.m.
In the team’s two tournament wins, the team’s averaged 39 percent shooting from the floor. In its two losses, the team’s average shooting percentage was 30 percent … In each of Temple’s three wins this season, the Owls have made nine 3-pointers. In their three losses, they have not made more than five … Sunday was also the fifth time this season that the Owls have attempted 19 or more free throws.
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.