Owls hold off Central Florida

Despite landing 22.6 percent of their shots in the second half, the Owls defeated Central Florida 71-63.

Feyonda Fitzgerald stepped to the line in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game against Central Florida in Orlando, Florida looking to end a 7-0 Knights’ run.

The junior guard knocked down both free throws, and Temple (11-5, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) did not trail for the rest of the game.

Fitzgerald finished with a team-high 16 points leading the Owls to a 71-63 win against Central Florida.

“I have not really been making shots,” Fitzgerald said. “ I have been focusing on other parts of my game like defense. This game I was confident with taking my shots because I knew they were going in.”

After Central Florida’s Ashley Polacek put the Knights up 7-0 with a 3-pointer , the Owls outscored the Central Florida s by 21 points during the final eight minutes of the first quarter to take a 30-16 lead.

“It was only the beginning of the game when we were down, so my teammates and I knew it was nothing to worry about,” Fitzgerald said. “Everyone has their runs, so we just had to stay composed.”

In the first half, Temple shot 54.3 percent from the field and outrebounded the Knights 31-25. Sophomore guards Tanaya Atkinson and Donnaizha Fountain and senior guard Erica Covile led the team with four rebounds as Temple headed off the court.

“When those two crash the boards along with Erica, it’s hard to stop us from crashing the boards,” Fitzgerald said. “From there, it helps us on the offensive end.”

Central Florida opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run, and coach Tonya Cardoza called a timeout with six minutes, 49 seconds. Temple did not score a basket until graduate center Ugo Nwaigwe caught a pass from sophomore guard Khadijah Berger and scored a layup with 3:18 left in the third quarter.

The Owls rallied in the last three minutes of the quarter, scoring six points to take a 58-47 lead into the fourth quarter.

“It’s like Jekyll and Hyde honestly, shooting in transition, knocking down shots and in the third quarter nothing would fall for us,” Cardoza said. “When things started not going good on offensive end, we lacked on the defensive end as well.”

In the fourth quarter, Central Florida’s Zykira Lewis sank a bucket for three, contributing to a 6-0 run, cutting the lead to 58-54 with 7:57 remaining.

After shooting 28.6 percent in the fourth quarter, Temple held off Central Florida.

“We struggled a lot with [3-point shots,] and there were opportunities for us to be aggressive and put the ball on the floor, and it felt like we were out of sync,” Cardoza said.  “We just got in our own heads.”

Cardoza expects a better performance when Temple travels to Storrs, Connecticut Saturday against Connecticut, the No. 1 team in AP Top 25 poll.

“Going into the game on Saturday, the last thing you want is to have a letdown,” Cardoza said. “The way we played today is not the way I expected us to play after these last two games. We have to buckle down and find a way to stop the giant.”

Connor Northrup can be reached at connor.northrup @temple.edu

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