At the final timeout of Wednesday’s 92-62 win against Sacred Heart University, coach Tonya Cardoza had a sense of relief.
With four minutes remaining, Cardoza emptied her bench after the Owls (4-4) extended their lead to 32, allowing her team to celebrate the win against the Pioneers.
“We really stressed about having a good third quarter because we haven’t played well, and it’s cost us a lot,” Cardoza said. “We need to play two good halves, and I definitely felt like we did that today.”
Last year at this time, Temple was in a similar position. After winning their first game, the Owls lost five of their next seven contests, falling to 3-5.
When Cardoza and her squad stepped onto court Wednesday night, they wanted to regain their winning ways. The Owls had lost four of their last five games after winning their first three games of the season.
“Our last time out [against Florida State University], we didn’t have a good showing,” Cardoza said. “We definitely wanted to come back and try to reestablish ourselves.”
For the first time all season, Temple had a height advantage on the court. The Owls matched up with the Pioneers, whose tallest player on the court was 6-foot-tall.
Senior 6-foot-1-inch senior guard Erica Covile played underneath for the majority of the first half against Sacred Heart’s starting post player, Hannah Kimmel, a 6-foot forward.
“They play a lot like us, where it’s four guards and one [forward underneath],” Cardoza said. “We thought we were going to have trouble trying to defend them because of the way they run their offense. They are very disciplined.”
From start to finish, the Owls never trailed.
Temple ended the first quarter on a 6-0 run to go up 26-12. Twenty-two of the team’s points from that quarter came from Covile and junior guard Donnaizha Fountain. Covile, whose highest scoring game all season was 11 points Nov. 13 against the University of Florida, scored eight of her 16 points in the first quarter.
“When Erica shows up to play and she’s looking to be aggressive, it’s hard for us to lose,” Cardoza said. “I know that Erica’s finally gotten to that point where she wants to be counted on. It’s not that she didn’t want to be counted on, she had to find it.”
Fountain, who started the game 4-of-4 from the field, finished the game with 13 points. It was the third consecutive game she scored in double figures.
“When the team is going, it gets everyone going,” Fountain said “It’s confidence, yes, but I set goals for myself before games, and I just try to reach them.”
Junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald started the game 0-for-4 from the field, but had six of her 11 assists in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Alliya Butts and Fitzgerald combined for 17 assists.
“I was really focusing on trying to be a better leader on the floor and noticing more of who has the hot hand or who could beat their opponent,” Fitzgerald said. “We know we didn’t do all the little things that coach asked of us, but we still won.”
While the Owls lead by 11 at halftime, Cardoza told her team to set a new goal in the third quarter: hold the Pioneers to fewer than 10 points.
“In that second quarter, they definitely outworked us,” Cardoza said. “Defensively, their mindset was different, and they really did buckle down.”
Returning from halftime, the Owls opened up the quarter on a 19-6 run in the first five minutes to separate themselves from the Pioneers.
Of the team’s 11 eligible players before tonight’s game, 10 players received playing time. Four of the Owls’ five starters scored in double-digits for the first time since their win over Florida.
“Everybody had an opportunity to play and I thought we had balanced scoring all around,” Cardoza said. “It was just a good all around game for us offensively.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at email@example.com or by Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.