A shot, a basket and a roar.
That certain sequence repeated itself with every one of Temple’s 35 buckets in its 80-66 defeat of Southern Methodist University at the Liacouras Center Tuesday afternoon.
It was the team’s annual “Shooting for Success” day, which extends the opportunity for kids from numerous area schools to come out for a Temple women’s basketball game, as well as receive a pre-game speech from coach Tonya Cardoza and others.
It also offered the opportunity for some of the area’s youth to belt out some noise as the group of 1,500 made for one loud American Athletic Conference contest that saw the home squad triumphant at the final horn.
“It definitely gave me energy,” freshman Feyonda Fitzgerald said with a grin.
A bolstered and confident Fitzgerald gave the Owls 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting, and nearly a third of their overall shot total. The American Rookie of the Year candidate teamed up well with junior Tyonna Williams in the backcourt, as Williams also dropped 16 points and took a share of the team-high.
In what ended as Temple’s game, it didn’t start out that way as SMU jumped out and appeared to be taking control early with a 13-4 advantage out the gate.
Temple (9-7, 3-3 The American) stormed back with a 12-0 run, however, to gain an 18-15 advantage midway through the half. Back-and-forth play defined the remainder of the half, as the two teams were knotted at 36 come halftime.
Junior guard Rateska Brown helped neutralize a so-so first-half defensive performance with four 3-point baskets and 15 points in the first half off the bench.
“My teammates were finding me and I was confident in my shot,” Brown said. “I was just trying to make as much as possible and they were finding me so I guess I felt good. My adrenaline was flowing.”
The Mustangs (11-6, 2-4 The American) took advantage of several open looks throughout the half en route to a 60-percent (15-for-25) performance from the field through 20 minutes.
“I felt like we did some things well in the first half [defensively],” Cardoza said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of guarding [SMU guard Kenna Mays] in the first half and limiting her shot attempts. I felt like we committed some fouls that maybe we didn’t have had to and I felt like we gave up some offensive rebounds that we should’ve had, but our rotation was still pretty good.”
“They were able to score by knocking down jump shots,” Cardoza added. “[The Mustangs] shot 50 percent and on the season that’s not what they shoot, but they were knocking down jump shots. We made sure we were clogging the paint inside, but they were knocking down jump shots today.”
A see-saw, offensive fueled first half carried over to the first 10 minutes of the second stanza, as the two teams traded blows and occasional defensive lapses that kept it the game at a one-possession score.
That is, until the game clock read 9:53 left to play.
The Owls then went on a subsequent 11-0 tear and outscored SMU 24-14 the rest of the way to ice their ninth win of the season.
“It’s always good to be at home and win basketball games especially against a good team like SMU,” Cardoza said. “Again, the [80-36 defeat to Connecticut on Jan. 11] was definitely an eye opener in a lot of ways for our guys to make sure we focus on different aspects of the game, and one of those was not allowing second chance points and taking care of the basketball and I think we did that today.”
Senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp chipped in 12 points and rounded out the quartet of Owls who finished with double-figures in scoring, with Fitzgerald, Williams and Brown being the others.
The Owls shot 42 percent (28-for-66) overall and hit seven 3-point buckets. Although the Mustangs shot 50 percent (25-for-50), Temple capitalized at the free-throw line, hitting 17-of-22 of its attempts from the charity stripe.
Senior forward Natasha Thames aided a rejuvenated defensive effort in the latter half, pulling in 10 of her 12 rebounds in the final 20 minutes along with six offensive boards.
“I felt like Natasha owned the backboards in the second half,” Cardoza said. “It just seemed like every ball that came off in crucial situations, she got them. But I think we were also able to get out and get some steals and make some easy opportunities for ourselves.”
With a third conference win under their belts, the Owls currently sit at fifth place in The American. While the five spot might not look bad on paper considering Temple’s predicted second-to-last conference finish in the preseason, Cardoza voiced otherwise.
“We know we were picked to finish second-to-last,” Cardoza said. “But when we showed up in practice with the nucleus we had, we knew people just didn’t know about us yet and we expected more from ourselves. At this point in the season, no I’m not happy with where we are because I felt like we let a lot of games get away from us.”
“But I’m also happy because we have the youth,” Cardoza added, on a positive note, “and they’re gaining a lot of experience.”
Temple will face another conference test Saturday on the road at Cincinnati at 2 p.m. That game will pose another kind of challenge for Cardoza, who will face a close friend in Bearcats coach Jamelle Elliot for the first time.
“Facing one of my dearest friends is going to be a difficult situation,” Cardoza said. “But we’re both competitors and we both want to win the basketball game. Once the ball goes up, we’re both going to try to make sure our team beats the heck out of the other.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.