In what could be its final game of the season against East Carolina this past Saturday, Temple found itself trailing by 18 points in the second half.
Rallying behind senior Tyonna Williams, who was playing to extend her collegiate career, the team did not quit and came within five points before eventually falling to the Pirates, 76-71.
The game was somewhat symbolic of Temple’s season. Early on the team fell well below .500, but late in the year, it pitched a comeback effort to try and get its lone senior to the postseason.
Sitting at 16-16 overall, the Owls are hoping for postseason eligibility. Whether they can fulfill their senior’s wishes, though, remains unlikely.
Like after her team’s loss to East Carolina, Williams said she is proud of her teammates’ efforts regardless of the end result.
“We dug ourselves in a deep hole at the beginning of the season and we could have folded,” Williams said. “We could have just stuck to being that bad team and completely lost our composure, but we didn’t. We stuck together, we fought through it and now we’re here and we have a chance to make it to postseason play.”
Sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, the team’s leading scorer in her freshman season, was struggling at 11.9 points per game through her first 12 games. and the team was finding it difficult to score consistently.
The Owls went 4-10 in the non-conference portion of their schedule. A four-game losing streak in early December was the low point of their season.
As Temple waits to hear about its postseason fate, it may have some regrets about its early-season play and whether the team started its comeback effort too late.
“I think when we get to sit back and reflect on how we started the season that in itself is going to be a motivator,” Cardoza said. “Our season could have been something totally different had we started the year how we finished. So now that we know what we’re capable of that’s how we have to approach next year.”
In American Athletic Conference play, the team righted the ship. With the emergence of freshman Alliya Butts and junior Erica Covile – both third-team all-conference honorees – as scoring options, the team started to find a balance offensively it lacked to start the year.
Temple finished 12-6 in The American, good for fourth place in the league. Two of their best wins of the season came against Tulane and East Carolina, schools that both won more than 20 games this season.
Williams said the team developed a do-or-die mentality that helped turn around its season.
“I think it was all about learning, having confidence and playing each game like it could be your last,” Williams said. “For me, I know that was my mindset coming into each game because … it was my last chance to play college basketball. I wanted to make sure I went out saying that I gave a 110 percent effort, and I think that rubbed off on a lot of my teammates toward midseason and conference play, and now here in the latter of our season.”
The Owls’ 2014-15 campaign was the team’s best finish since the 2011-12 season. It was the first time in three years the team finished at .500 with a winning conference record.
However, the 16-16 mark was far off from the team’s 23-10 record during Williams’ freshman season.
As all players are eligible for next season except for Williams, the Owls have a young core to move forward with that has played well down the stretch.
“Yeah, we’re playing pretty good basketball [right now], but we have to be even better,” Cardoza said. “I know that we will. I know that we have a lot of pieces and its just going to take this summer dedicating ourselves to become better basketball players and a better team.”
Owen McCure can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.