As Temple trailed by one with seven seconds remaining in its first round NCAA tournament game, senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald was in control.
Temple’s leading scorer quickly got the ball up the court and took what seemed to be the perfect shot: an open layup. But University of Oregon freshman forward Ruthy Hebard came out of nowhere to deflect the potential game-winning shot as time expired.
As the buzzer sounded, Temple saw its season come to a sudden end. The seventh-seeded Owls closed their season with a 71-70 loss to No. 10 Oregon at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday in Durham, North Carolina.
“If I had to do it again, I’m going to put the ball in Feyonda’s hands,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We’ve won games, we’ve lost games, and she’s our leader. She’s the guy that we go to. I wouldn’t change anything. She had a great look at it, the guy just made a great play in coming over and blocking the shot.”
As the Ducks celebrated, Fitzgerald crouched down on the floor until her teammates came over and helped her up. She was fighting tears as she walked to the locker room.
“When you lose like that, there’s not a lot you can say,” Cardoza said. “You can tell them what a great season it was, but they don’t want to hear that. It’s just disappointment. They’re upset. If we lose by 10 they’re crying because it’s over, but it was the way that we lost that really hurts them.”
The Owls played their first NCAA tournament game since 2011. The excitement and support for Temple (24-8) was evident in the stands, with matching cherry and white shirts, chants and cheers and miscellaneous signs.
A fan waved a poster-sized picture of Fitzgerald whenever she scored.
“It was great to have my family here behind my back, supporting me all the way in North Carolina,” Fitzgerald said. “It felt great to see them in the stands. I wish it could have been a different turnout for them, but we gave it our all and we played hard. We just came up short in this one. But it was great having them here for my last game.”
In addition to blocking Fitzgerald’s game-winning attempt, Hebard led the Ducks with 23 points. Freshman forward Mallory McGwire had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Oregon.
The score stayed close throughout the game. The largest lead by either team was a seven-point advantage for Oregon. The game was tied seven times and the lead changed 13 times over the course of the game.
“This one hurts because we were in the game,” junior guard Alliya Butts said. “It was a close game and we all fought hard and to come out and to lose like that, it hurts. It was a close one.”
Butts led all scorers with a season-high 28 points, going 4-of-8 from behind the arc and 12-for-19 overall. Of Temple’s 16 three-point attempts, Butts shot the only four that went in the basket.
“When I started shooting, the shots started falling,” Butts said. “So I just continued to shoot the ball with confidence, and it started going in.”
Fitzgerald ended her night with 16 points, five rebounds, and six assists. Senior forward Ruth Sherrill contributed 10 points and five rebounds, giving Temple a needed boost in the second quarter.
The Owls struggled with picking up rebounds, especially in the first half, when they were outrebounded 24-18. Junior guard Tanaya Atkinson ended the game with a team-high 14 rebounds and added eight points.
“They’re a lot bigger than they look on film, I can tell you that,” Cardoza said of Oregon. “We knew that we had speed and quickness, but we also knew they were big and would take advantage of us in the post. It just came down to that very last possession. They had a difficult time stopping us and we had a difficult time stopping them.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca. Follow The Temple News on Twitter @TheTempleNews and @TTN_Sports.