In the last few seasons, a spirited rivalry has developed between the women’s basketball team and Rutgers, but Temple got the best of its tri-state rival Wednesday night.
Lifted by a pair of clutch free throws from junior guard Shey Peddy in the game’s final seconds, the Owls defeated the Scarlet Knights, 60-58, in a thrilling point-for-point battle at McGonigle Hall.
“We had tremendous play from certain individuals, with Shey on the last play of the game and [senior guard] Qwedia [Wallace] stepping in and having to run the point,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I’m just so proud of these guys, and this was a tough one for us coming off of the road games. We really needed a game like this, and we’re just happy we could come away with the victory.”
Tormented under the basket by junior forward Chelsey Lee early on, Temple trailed for much of the game and shot 38.9 percent from the floor. However, the team buckled down in the final minutes to get the win over Rutgers for the second-straight season.
“We turned the ball over 16 times, but not until the last two minutes was it really crucial for us,” Cardoza said.
With 2.3 seconds remaining and the game knotted at 58-58, Peddy drove to the basket and tossed up a desperation shot. Sophomore guard Erica Wheeler fouled her on the play, sending Peddy to the free throw line. With a tense crowd watching, Peddy calmly sank both free throws to give her team its final lead of the night.
“We played a good 40 minutes, and I didn’t want to have to let us go and play another five,” Peddy said.
While Peddy solidified the win, Temple received yet another impressive outing from Wallace, who scored 13 points and grabbed six offensive rebounds, four of which came late in the second half, when the Owls needed it most.
“I did crash a little bit more, but I’m going to be honest and say they weren’t really boxing me out,” Wallace said. “Some of them just came to me, but at the same time, I know that our coaches were stressing before the game that we need to crash the boards.”
Wallace’s performance was all the more impressive considering that junior point guard BJ Williams, a solid contributor off the bench, was ill for the game and did not play. Wallace was also assigned the task of guarding Rutgers redshirt-junior guard Khadijah Rushdan, the team’s leading scorer of the season, and held her to just 10 points and two rebounds.
Junior forward Kristen McCarthy also scored in double figures for the Owls with 13 points, and senior forward Marli Bennett stepped up to lead the team with 14 points while grabbing four rebounds on the night.
“Marli played outstanding for us,” Cardoza said. “She’s one of the toughest kids in the post that we have. For the most part, she can guard just about anybody. She can guard bigger guys and take charges, and she knows how to step out and guard a guard.
“She knows how to step up and knock down the open jump shot, too,” Cardoza added. “She is one of the most valuable players on our team.”
Bennett’s performance in the post was key for the Owls as they struggled to shutdown Lee under the basket. The 6-foot, 2-inch Rutgers forward was dominant in the paint, posting a game-high 15 points and eight rebounds. As a team, the Scarlet Knights were an impressive 57 percent shooting in the first half.
Temple countered its early defensive struggles by nailing five three-pointers, two of which came courtesy of Wallace. The Owls never trailed by more than five, heading into halftime down, 25-30.
Both teams matched each other nearly point-for-point in the second half, and Temple continued to hit clutch shots from behind the arc. Rutgers, on the other hand, continued to shoot more than 50 percent from the field, but five minutes into the half, Bennett nailed her third trey of the game to give Temple a two-point lead.
Although they never again trailed in the game, the Owls struggled to put away Rutgers for good and saw a six-point lead vanish with two minutes, 41 seconds left. Rushdan hit back-to-back jumpers for the Scarlet Knights to tie the game for the eighth time at 58-58. However, Lee missed a jump shot on Rutgers’ next possession, and Peddy grabbed the rebound to finally seal the win at the foul line.
Now 4-3 on the season, Rutgers held a 33-10 series advantage over Temple prior to Wednesday night, but Temple’s win marks the first time the Owls have defeated Rutgers in back-to-back seasons since 1985.
“I love when we’re getting ready to play Rutgers because they’re a good team, and we know they’re going to come in and fight,” Wallace said. “I think it’s a nice little rivalry we have going with them.”
Rivalry or not, the game was a must-win for Owls, who were coming off two road losses at Pepperdine and UCLA.
“This was a great game for us, and this is a game that we definitely needed with an opponent like Rutgers, someone who is going to press us and crash the offensive boards,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “Those are some of the things that have been costing us games in the past, and I thought that we handled ourselves well.”
The victory pushed Temple to 3-4 on the season before the team was back on the road Saturday, defeating Auburn, 63-62, in another down-two-the-wire game. With a little more than a minute remaining, sophomore forward Brittany Lewis drained a three-pointer to put the Owls up for good. Peddy led the team with 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while McCarthy and Wallace added 15 points each.
The Owls are now 4-4 on the season as they conclude their road trip Monday night at Ohio.
Jeffrey Janiczek can be reached at email@example.com.