Maybe it was coach Tonya Cardoza’s 14 seasons as an assistant coach at Connecticut, Rutgers’ chief rival in the Big East Conference.
Or maybe it was the No. 15-ranked Scarlet Knights’ 17 turnovers, 12 of them coming in the first half.
But no matter what the reason, the women’s basketball team held its own last night, only losing 64-60, after leading 32-21 at halftime and 42-41 until 10:19 left in the second half, when Rutgers finally got the lead and never looked back.
It was a far cry from last year’s 70-34 shellacking in Piscataway, N.J.
“We don’t focus on the past,” senior forward Shenita Landry said. “We came in focused on this game.”
This game was the second one this season where the Owls held leads versus nationally ranked opponents, as they led then-No. 21 Auburn 34-33 back on Nov. 17 before eventually falling to the Tigers, 95-76.
“I don’t like moral victories,” Cardoza said. “A victory would’ve been the best. We hurt ourselves against Auburn with the turnovers, and tonight, we didn’t get the ball inside and panicked in the second half. But we’ve proven we can play with anybody, and it’s about time we knock one of them off.”
The Owls went inside early and often in the game to senior forward Shanea Cotton, who paced the team’s opening 5-0 run, scoring those first five points and a first-half high of 11 points overall. She finished the game with a career-high 18 points.
“The plan going in was to execute plays, and lots of our plays involve getting down in the post because of our big post threat,” Cotton said.
But there wasn’t just an offensive presence in the interior. The defense held Rutgers’ inside duo of junior center Rashidat Junaid and senior center Kia Vaughn to a combined total of four points and nine rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, as the Scarlet Knights only outrebounded the Owls by three in the first half, 21-18.
That defense succumbed to Rutgers’ continued movement inside in the second half, though, as Vaughn added six points to her first half total to finish with 10 overall. All six of those points came during a Rutgers 8-0 run early on in the second half.
“I knew Rutgers wasn’t going to roll over and die. I knew they were going to go on a run,” Cardoza said. “Last year [at UConn], we were up by about 20 and lost the game. They’re a good second-half team, and Epiphanny looked to take over.”
Junior guard Prince scored a game-high 25 points, with 19 of them coming in the second half and 13 of them at the foul line.
And it didn’t help Temple’s case that the referees called 21 more fouls on the Owls in the second half than in the first.
“That’s what I said to the refs,” Cardoza said. “We didn’t get any calls. But I guess it’s because I’m a newcomer. Still, I don’t think they were the difference in the game.”
And that could be because the Owls had their chances as well but connected on only 47.4 percent of their foul shot opportunities.
Temple wraps up a five-game homestand with games against Dartmouth and preseason No.21-ranked Florida State tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon, respectively.
The men’s basketball team was in attendance, sitting with the student section during the first half of the game…The 1998 National Champion women’s lacrosse team was honored during a halftime ceremony at center court…Junior guard LaKeisha Eaddy was spotted on crutches following the game.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.