The Owls showed up at the Carrier Dome as underdogs tasked to take down a Top 25 team Monday night, but didn’t seem give that particular detail much thought.
“We took the same approach that we’ve had all year,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We know no one expects us to win except the people in our locker room. Coming into the season expected much from us except us. You just want to come in here and try to win the basketball game. We just knew we’d be on the road against a tough team.”
Although the Temple (5-3) played according to script in the opening period, the second half saw the Owls make a game of it before succumbing to the No. 23 Orange in the late stages of an eventual 82-76 defeat.
Syracuse (9-1) blitzed Temple from the opening tipoff with an 11-0 run to start the game. The Orange pushed the advantage to an 18-point margin with about five minutes left in the half before taking a 43-32 lead into the break.
“I felt like we were tentative [at the start],” Cardoza said. “We knew we could play with them, we played with them last year. The same thing happened where we wait for one of our guys to step up and do something and then we think ‘OK, we can play and compete.’”
And wait they did, for about 20 minutes.
The Owls then found their step-up talisman in freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, who hit 17 of her game-high 28 points in the second half and helped Temple climb back from the double-digit deficit and briefly take the lead.
Temple grabbed its first lead when sophomore guard Erica Covile took a pass from her junior counterpart in Tyonna Williams and laid it in off the glass for a 50-49 advantage with 13 minutes left to play.
The Owls had the momentum in their favor in front of a stunned Carrier Dome crowd when senior forward Natasha Thames banked one in off the glass in the paint to give Temple a six-point, 57-51 lead with 11:14 left to play.
“We had a lot of turnovers, but we started knocking down some shots in the second half because we were feeding off of each other,” Cardoza said. “We were limiting them and not allowing their best players to score and we were coming out in transition and attacking.”
The six-point margin was as wide as Temple’s lead would get, as the Orange began to chip away and eventually regained control of the lead and the contest, thanks in part to three 3-point buckets from Brianna Butler in the game’s last 10:06 and 11 points from sophomore guard Brittany Sykes in the half.
A 3-point jumper from senior guard Rachel Coffey and a subsequent layup from Sykes stretched the Orange lead to a 77-67 advantage with 1:09 left and put the game out of reach.
Syracuse’s balanced, talented attack coupled with the wear of digging out of a double-digit hole ultimately doomed the Owls down the stretch, Cardoza said.
“We just couldn’t withstand them,” Cardoza said. “They have a lot of great players who found a way to step up and win it down the stretch.”
“I think Natasha had a better second half,” Cardoza added. “Feyonda led us with 28 points, she’s fearless. I think we fed off her. Here she is, a freshman and looking to attack a Top 25 team on the road. … But, we wore ourselves out because we had to fight so hard down by 18 to come back that we didn’t have enough down the stretch.”
Temple shot 42 percent from the floor (26-for-61) while the Orange shot at a 39 percent clip (29-for-74) and were outrebounded by Temple, 46-40.
The turnover ratio stood as the seeing-eye difference at the end of the game, with the Owls turning the ball over 26 times as opposed to Syracuse’s 12, and saw four players turn the ball over four times or more.
“We missed a few free throws and we turned the ball over a lot,” Cardoza said. “We knew going in that we would have to protect the ball in order to win, and we had way too many turnovers to beat a team like that on the road.”
After a brief rest and practice period, Temple will take on Howard University (3-6) Thursday at McGonigle Hall for the first half of a two-game homestand. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.