Tyonna Williams stood on the hardwood of the West Virginia University Coliseum as the final seconds ticked away.
Before time expired, Williams gazed over to the Temple bench. Her eyes met coach Tonya Cardoza’s and the two silently understood that Williams’ career was coming to an end in a 66-58 overtime loss to West Virginia in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament semifinals.
The team’s lone senior tried everything she could do to will her team to victory.
The guard out of Fort Washington, Maryland scored a team-high 15 points, including Temple’s final five points in regulation. She set up freshman Alliya Butts for a potential game-winning 3-point jump shot with five seconds left in regulation, but it missed.
In overtime, Williams knocked down a 3-pointer, her final points as an Owl, with 30 seconds on the clock, cutting the West Virginia lead to 62-58.
Her efforts proved fruitless, as the Owls’ season ended one game away from the WNIT Championship.
“Those last few seconds, it hits you and reality hits you because you know you don’t have a chance at winning the game,” Williams said.
When Williams made it to the visitor’s locker room, she stood up and addressed the team one final time.
She locked eyes with her “sisters” and gave them the “needed words of encouragement” after a game Temple should have won, Williams said.
“It was something they needed to hear and I think it was something they were happy to hear,” Williams said.
This kind of leadership by Williams is what Cardoza attributes the team’s success to this season.
Cardoza said that without Williams leading a team of nine active players, which included six underclassmen, the Owls would not have made it to the semifinals of the WNIT.
“She had a bunch of young guys and she could have been frustrated, but that was never the case,” Cardoza said. “They followed her lead.”
Despite her season ending in a loss, Williams was not overcome with emotion. She said the game was not as emotional as a last-second WNIT victory over North Carolina State University on March 26, or Temple’s 79-69 defeat of East Carolina during senior night on Feb. 28.
For Williams, the result against West Virginia was more about being proud in what the team accomplished this season.
“It wasn’t anything to hang my head about and it wasn’t anything for [teammates] to hang their heads about,” Williams said. “I want them to hang their heads high. … We should all have a smile on our faces.”
After a 16-16 regular season that ended with a WNIT semifinal appearance, Williams described her senior season as “mindblowing,” due to the team’s improbable postseason run.
The team began the season 3-7, before rallying to win 20 games and making it to the WNIT – a place, Williams said, that no one expected the Owls to be in early on in the year.
“The fact that we started off the season so slow, the way we were playing – I don’t think anyone thought we would have made it as far as we did,” she said. “I don’t think anyone would have thought we would win 20 games this season or make it to the semifinals of the [WNIT].”
Individually, Williams finished her career as the program’s all-time career leader in 3-pointers with 171 and an 81.6 free-throw percentage. She also ranks fifth all-time in career assists, with 397, and 17th with 1,075 career points.
“With all the ups and downs that this season has brought, all the accomplishments that we were able to achieve, individually and as a team … as a senior, I wouldn’t have wanted this season to end any other way,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t have wanted my career to end any other way or with a better group of girls or coaches.”
While the squad returns the rest of its current roster for next season, Cardoza said that replacing Williams will be a tall task in the offseason.
“She is someone that plays with so much passion and she is very supportive,” Cardoza said. “She is like a coach on the floor. She is someone that if I had to build a program, I would want to start with someone just like her because she exemplifies what you want in a player, in a leader.”
Now, as she looks back on her career, Williams said she thinks she left a positive mark on not only on her team, but the university, as well.
“I feel like at the end of the day, when people think of Tyonna Williams, they are going to think she is a true Temple Owl,” Williams said. “That’s all you can really ask for.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise