Before Friday’s opener at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena Friday, a few Temple players took the floor with ‘redemption’ written on their wrists.
With memories of last year’s 16-point defeat to the Explorers clearly still fresh in their minds, the Owls overcame a slow start and used a second half surge to top La Salle, 60-47.
“It’s huge,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We talked about it and last year we were never in contention to win the Big 5 [title] and we just put ourselves in a position where we can win it. We knew coming into this game that we had to win it. It was like redemption. Our players talked about it and they really wanted this win because they felt like last year they gave it away. Today there were times that it seemed like that was going to happen again, but they weren’t going to let it happen.”
After the Owls (1-0) took a five-point lead out of the gate, La Salle (0-1) took advantage of several Temple turnovers with an ensuing 12-2 run to hold an early advantage. Turnovers, sloppy play and the Owls’ inability to score from 3-point range helped La Salle maintain the lead for the majority of the contest.
After holding a 27-23 advantage at halftime, the Explorers took its biggest lead of the game when they made it 39-31 midway through the second half.
“We felt like we didn’t play well and we were down four,” Cardoza said. “Honestly I felt like they were playing well. They hit some shots, they were getting steals. My message [at halftime] was look at how poorly we played and we’re only down four. If we just turn it around and not have second chance points and guard the 3-point line, things will be different and they were.”
Staring at the Owls’ largest deficit of the game, junior guard Tyonna Williams played the role of sparkplug, hitting the Owls’ first 3-point bucket of the night and starting what turned into a 16-0 Temple run that silenced those in attendance and essentially handed Temple its first win of the season.
Meghan Roxas gave Temple its first lead when she hit a 3-point shot from the corner with just under nine minutes to play. Sophomore guards Erica Covile and senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp each hit a pair of buckets during the point streak, while Williams fittingly capped the run with another basket from long range with a little more than three minutes left to put the game on ice.
“There were a lot of things that happened, but Meg hitting the three really excited everyone because that was our lead,” Cardoza said. “That was huge for us and I think honestly we really rallied behind that. There were a lot of plays that happened, but that was the one that really stuck out in my mind.”
The key matchup down low saw the six-foot redshirt-senior forward Natasha Thames playing out of position at center pitted against La Salle’s 6-foot-4 graduate-senior Leeza Burdgess. Despite playing undersized for 32 minutes, Thames dropped 12 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for the double-double.
With Cardoza trying to ease in two freshman centers, Thames will be relied on to play the bulk of her minutes as the team’s “big.”
“It was [intimidated today] at first, but I had help,” Thames said. “I was fronting her and I had help on the other side so I was confident that my teammates could help me.”
Shipp, a transfer from George Washington, had a game-high 18 points in her first game with the Owls, and was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Although Temple will have a quick turnaround with its non-conference battle with Delaware on Tuesday, Cardoza’s just happy her squad prevailed in a very important game one.
“The fact that we were starting out with a Big 5 game right from the jump, it puts a lot of pressure on you,” Cardoza said. “We felt it was important to get a good start and we didn’t. But we were down and didn’t give up. We could’ve easily folded because things weren’t going well for us, but we had guys step up and made big plays … there were a lot of positives in that second half and a lot of it started on the defensive end and not giving up second chance opportunities. It was ugly, but we were happy to come in here and get that win.
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.