After breaking from her team’s final timeout, down by one point with less than a minute left in the game, sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald said she was confident.
The 5-foot-7-inch guard drained a pull-up jumper with 34 seconds left in the game helping the Owls to take a one-point lead en route to a 75-72 win against La Salle to open their season.
“I was very confident,” Fitzgerald said. “I know I had a post player guarding me, so I just called flat and that’s when everybody goes down and I got a one-on-one and I just did what I had to do.”
After the Explorers opened up the game with the team’s first points, the Owls jumped out to a five-point lead, 10-5. But fouls and missed shots would cause La Salle to get back in the game as it would tie the contest at 21 apiece with a little more than 9 minutes to play.
The Owls would go on a 15-4 run to take an 11-point lead with 5 minutes, 15 seconds left in the half. But, the Explorers would storm back as the Owls played five guards in the final few minutes of the half, in which coach Tonya Cardoza said she was trying to minimize foul trouble.
“We were in foul trouble,” Cardoza said. “We had post players, Safiya and Mama both had two fouls. I am one of those coaches, where they are both young and I don’t want them to pick up that third foul because that might be demoralizing to our team, and Taylor is not ready to go up and down that much.”
“So, we felt like that the offense that we run and the players that they had on the floor we could defend them,” Cardoza added. “So they had to change how they played and they played five guards or five guys who are similar size. So when we made that adjustment, they had to adjust to us.”
La Salle did adjust offensively and went on a 19-10 run of its own to end the first half down by two points, 46-44.
Freshman guard Tanaya Atkinson scored the first five points of the second half as the Owls pushed their lead to nine points to open the period. The Explorers then knotted the game at 57 apiece when they went on a 13-4 run in the game.
After tying the game at 65, La Salle took its largest lead of the game, 70-65 with 3:49 minutes left on the clock, but senior guard Tyonna Williams was not dismayed.
“We all got on the bench and instead of everybody being on the bench having our head hung, being in our own feelings, being about ourselves, we were about the team,” Williams said. “There were people on the bench saying ‘It’s OK, we got it. “It’s me saying ‘All we have to do is get some stops and some scores,’ and I think thats the kind of atmosphere that makes this team different than last year’s.”
After the timeout, the Owls went back on the court and climbed back in the game as junior guard Erica Covile made a layup, while Fitzgerald capitalized on a turnover as the lead went down by three, 72-69 with 2:42 remaining in the game.
Fouls would send Williams to the line as she drilled two buckets, pulling the Owls within one.
After a Fitzgerald missed 3-pointer, sophomore center Safiya Martin snatched the offensive rebound as Cardoza called the final timeout before Martin fell out of bounce.
Then the jumper by Fitzgerald sent the crowd at the Liacouras to their feet as the Owls took the lead for good. Fitzgerald went to the foul line on the ensuing possession, and hit one of two free throws. She scored a career-high 29 points in the game.
Tanaya Atkinsons sealed Temple’s winning score with a free throw.
Now, after winning the first game of the season, the Owls will face off against another Big 5 rival in St. Joseph’s on Tuesday, Nov. 18.
“We won the game but there is a lot of things we need to work on,” Williams said. “There are still a lot of things we need to work on this week. Just getting in the gym, watching film, watching our mistakes, practice and get better as each day goes by and obviously we will handle Saint Joseph’s when they come around. We are going to go in with the same mentality. Its a Big 5 game and it’s a game we want to win.
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.