Owls top East Carolina on senior night

Sometimes, sport has a way of making things fall into place, setting up certain moments as if they were scripted.

In the closing stages of her final home game in a Temple uniform, senior guard Tyonna Williams had that kind of moment.

With seconds remaining in the game, the Fort Washington, Maryland native stepped to the free-throw line with an opportunity to secure her team’s eventual 79-69 defeat of East Carolina Saturday.

Williams swished both shots, pumped her fist and was subbed out to thunderous applause from those in the stands at McGonigle Hall.

After leaving the court for the last time in her career, an emotional Williams went right to coach Tonya Cardoza and embraced the woman she considers a mother-like figure.

With the win Saturday, Williams and her team hit the .500 mark for the first time since November 2014. The two teams came into the contest tied at 10-6 in the American Athletic Conference standings

Despite a senior-day ceremony honoring Williams before the game, the Owls (15-15, 11-6 The American) came out flat after the opening tip.

East Carolina, riding a six-game win streak, jumped out to a 14-4 lead. While it felt like the Pirates were dominating the game, Cardoza’s squad held tough and withstood their opponents run.

The Owls were eventually able to claim the lead for a time during the half,k and went into halftime down by one. Cardoza said her players’ ability to bounce back from the Pirates’ punch came from wanting to win the game for their lone senior.

“It’s just really good to see, when you have a really young team really trying to fight for something other than themselves,” Cardoza said. “Fighting for someone else. I felt like our guys really were trying to go out there and make sure Tyonna won.”

Temple’s performance Saturday was certainly no tutorial for how to play clean basketball, as it accounted for 26 turnovers and committed 21 fouls. Down the stretch, though, the Owls made big shots, came up with stops on the defensive end and hit their free throws.

The team went 29 of 35 from the line in the game, and hit 19 of its 22 attempts after the break. Junior Erica Covile, who hit 12 of her 15 free-throw attempts, made more foul shots than the entire East Carolina team.

“If we don’t knock them down, maybe the game is something completely different,” Cardoza said of her team’s ability to convert from the line in crunch time. “But we spend a lot of time on it, in pressure situations, and we felt like we handled it.

Covile was the backbone of Temple’s strong second-half effort. The guard had 17 of her team-high 22 points during the final 20 minutes of play.

The strong performance from Covile, who also added nine rebounds to her stat line, came after a four-point outing in Temple’s last game against Southern Methodist. She said she can build off this performance and use it as momentum heading into the team’s final stretch, with includes its final regular-season game March 2 at Houston, along with the conference tournament.

“I feel like if I keep playing the way I played today, we can get some big wins,” Covile said.

Loose notes

Freshman Alliya Butts was 1 for 10 shooting the ball midway through the second half. Butts then made four three-point shots down the stretch … With the win, Temple put itself in a position to get a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the conference tournament if they defeat Houston next week.

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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