Free throws became a burden for the women’s basketball team in the second half of its game against Saint Joseph’s.
The Owls trailed the Hawks for nearly the entire game. Shooting 6-of-16 from the foul line in the final 20 minutes of the contest didn’t help their comeback bid, either.
But Temple still managed to force the game into overtime and when regulation ended, free-throws became the Owls’ best friend.
The Owls shot 11-of-12 from the foul line in overtime to cap a 78-71 comeback victory over the Hawks Sunday at the Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse. It was Temple’s 15th consecutive Big 5 win.
Kamesha Hairston scored 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to secure her ninth double-double of the season. Lady Comfort notched 23 points and nine rebounds.
It marked the first time since Dec. 17 that two Owls scored 20 or more points in one game.
Fatima Maddox added 10 points.
The Owls (16-5 overall, 6-0 Atlantic Ten Conference, 3-0 Big 5) grabbed their first lead of the game when Hairston hit a lay-up with 2:47 remaining in regulation to give the team a 63-62 advantage.
The Hawks (11-9, 3-3, 3-1) regained the lead on their next possession on two free throws from senior Whitney Ffrench. Senior Ayahna Cornish made 1-of-2 free throws to give the Hawks a 65-63 edge with less than a minute to go.
On the Owls’ next possession, Hairston received the ball at the left wing, dribbled into the lane and hit a game-tying jumper from just inside the free-throw line.
“She’s our go-to player,” coach Dawn Staley said of Hairston. “She’s got to take shots at the end of the basketball games, so we wanted the ball in her hands.”
Hairston said she didn’t hesitate to take the shot.
“It’s my team,” Hairston said, “and I want to be the one taking the last shot … I don’t want to put that pressure on anyone else.”
The Hawks got the ball back with 30.8 seconds left in regulation and had a chance to win the game but Ffrench’s lay-up attempt clanked high off the backboard.
The Owls hit eight consecutive free throws to start the overtime period and established a 73-65 lead by the 1:32 mark. They held the Hawks scoreless for the first three minutes, 45 seconds of the extra session.
Comfort scored 10 points in the final 13 minutes of the game despite playing with four fouls.
“When she was on the floor she was very consistent and that’s promising for us,” Hairston said.
Comfort picked up her fourth foul with 16:37 remaining in the second half. Staley decided to roll the dice and re-insert Comfort into the game with about eight minutes left in the game.
Comfort never picked up her fifth foul.
“The fouls that she did pick up, you don’t know if that’s going to happen when you insert her into the game,” Staley said. “I think we’re better off with her on the floor with four fouls than” if she was sitting on the bench.
Comfort and guard LaKeisha Eaddy both picked up their second foul early in the first half when the Owls staggered out of the gate.
The Hawks jumped out to a 10-point lead with 17:06 remaining in the first half.
Before Comfort was forced to sit, she scored eight points on 4-of-7 shooting.
With Comfort’s replacement, Nicole Pittman, contributing six points off the bench, the Owls rallied to cut the Hawks’ lead to two points with less than eight minutes left.
But the Hawks answered back behind three consecutive three-pointers and a pair of free-throws to push their lead to 33-24 with 4:38 remaining.
The Hawks shot 70 percent from the field and went five-of-six from behind the three-point line to take a 38-32 advantage into halftime.
Sophomore Jen Oyler led the Hawks with nine points on 3-of-3 shooting in the first stanza.
Ffrench led the Hawks with 18 points and Cornish finished with 15 points.
Temple will face Xavier (16-6, 4-2) Friday at McGonigle Hall. It will be the first regular season game the Owls have played at McGonigle Hall since they defeated East Tennessee State, 68-46, on Nov. 28, 2003.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.