Feyonda Fitzgerald couldn’t help but grin as she retold the story of what had happened minutes earlier.
“When [Tyonna Williams] passed it to me, I just shot it,” freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald said.
After trailing by double digits early in the second period, the Owls rallied back and defeated Auburn 78-74 in the home opener on Saturday evening.
“Once we put up two good halves, maybe we won’t dig ourselves in such a big hole,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “This is the third game now that we’ve been down at the half and had to come out, fight, and claw to get our way back into the basketball game. But it’s just showing that no matter what the basketball situation, we’re not going to fold.”
Trailing by one with 24 seconds remaining in the game, Fitzgerald took a pass from junior guard Tyonna Williams and scored a late three point basket, sealing the victory for Temple.
With the win against Auburn (2-1), Temple (3-0) has started the season with three consecutive victories for the first time since the Owls’ 2009-10 season. Saturday’s game was Auburn’s first loss of the year.
The Owls were led offensively by their starting backcourt of Fitzgerald and Williams. Williams and Fitzgerald both recorded a career-high in points with 29 and 18 scored respectively. The duo shot a combined 9-17 from three point range.
Other career-highs for the Owls included sophomore guard Erica Covile scoring 14 points and freshman center Taylor Robinson’s six points and three blocked shots.
Three Auburn players, senior forward Tyrese Tanner and freshman guards Brandy Montgomery and Katie Frerking, scored in double figures. Tanner recorded team-highs with 19 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks. Freshman guard Meagan Tucker registered a game-high eight assists in the loss.
The Owls lone first half lead disappeared as the period was underway as Auburn forced Temple into 13 turnovers and took advantage of open three point opportunities, shooting 4-8 from long range. The Tigers also held a heavy rebounding advantage with 21 boards compared to the Owls’ 13. Those Auburn advantages combined with a 55% field goal percentages propelled the Tigers to a commanding 44-32 halftime lead.
At the start of the second period, Temple went on a run that would eventually bring them back into the game.
Sparked by three Williams’ long range shots, Temple went on an 18-6 run to knot the game at 50. Williams scored once more on a layup to give the Owls a 52-50 lead, their first lead since the early goings of the first period.
“Right before the second half started, our assistant coach pulled me to the side and was like ‘[Tyonna], stop passing up open shots’,” Williams said. “It gave a boost of energy, a confidence, and those first two threes had went in and it was all over.”
The Owls held on to their lead for much of the second period, leading 73-67 with nearly three minutes remaining in the game, but Auburn scored seven unanswered points to take a 74-73 lead with 1:10 remaining.
During Auburn’s unanswered run, Fitzgerald, running the point for the Owls, recorded two turnovers and a missed uncontested layup in three consecutive possessions.
“[Fitzgerald] had some crucial plays down the stretch that were ‘freshman’ plays,” Cardoza said. “Soe crucial turnovers. I know that she was down and I heard [Williams] talking to her during the timeout telling her to let it go.”
After a each team’s possession ending in turnovers, with 24 seconds remaining, Williams found Fitzgerald for the three pointer to give Temple a 76-74 lead.
“[Fitzgerald] had the confidence and she just let it go and she drained that three,” Cardoza said. “The fact that she even thought to take it shows a lot about her and her toughness as a freshman to step up and take the shot, let alone make it.”
Auburn missed its next shot opportunity and with two free throws, Williams closed out the Owls’ victory.
“These guys stuck together and they fought,” Cardoza said. “We always talk about communication being the key for us and I felt like down the stretch, when our backs were against the wall, we really beared down and communicated and tried to help eachother out.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BErick1123.