‘Frustrated’ was the word that epitomized Temple’s collective feelings.
“You don’t understand how frustrated I am right now,” coach Tonya Cardoza said.
In a game that featured 11 ties and eight lead changes, the Temple Owls were outlasted by the South Florida Bulls in a American Athletic Conference barn burner 72-69 on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
“I don’t think anyone is feeling good when you’re that close to winning a game,” Cardoza said. “At this point, there are no moral victories. We expected to come in here and win the basketball game. We didn’t, and we’re disappointed in ourselves.”
Temple (12-14,6-9) has now lost three consecutive meetings against conference foes, including its second straight defeat by a single possession. USF (15-11,10-5) has continued to string victories against non-ranked conference members, with #1/1 Connecticut, #3/3 Louisville, and #25 Rutgers being the only conference opponents to defeat it.
The game’s offensive standout was USF’s sophomore guard Courtney Williams, who scored a game-high 35 points on 15 of 25 shooting, and also sealed the Bulls’ win with free throws in the final seconds. C.Williams, who was the sole USF player in double-figure scoring, also recorded a team-high seven rebounds, including four offensive rebounds.
“I felt like we gave her some easy opportunities, and easy looks,” Cardoza said. “She shot the ball really well.”
Redshirt-sophomore guard Shaleth Stringfield registered a game-high six assists.
For Temple, freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald and junior guard Tyonna Williams led the way offensively, scoring 32 total points, including 23 and 19 points scored respectively. T.Williams went 3 for 6 from long ranges, and also tied a team-high with Fitzgerald, recording four assists. Fifth-year senior Shi-Heria Shipp recorded a game-high 10 rebounds.
Overall, despite Temple outrebounding the Bulls, and recording more successful free throw attempts, USF held crucial advantages in field goal percentage of 45 to 38, and a blocked shot advantage of 11 to two.
With nearly five minutes passed in the opening period, an early Temple advantage was erased by USF, as a Bulls lay in tied the game at 10. Shortly after the tying bucket, USF grabbed a two-point lead on a transition jumper. For the following five minutes, both teams traded a string of scoring possessions, but the Bulls continued to hold onto their advantage, leading 20-19.
With just under nine minute remaining in the half, T.Williams and Fitzgerald scored in two consecutive possessions, making the score 23-20 in favor of the Owls.
Once again trading successful offensive possessions, in the following couple of minutes, the game saw two more lead changes, and a tied score of 28 with 5:48 remaining in the half.
With the score tied, Temple then took its opportunity to pull away from its opposition, outscoring USF 13-6, and holding a 41-34 lead with 1:35 left in the period. But, the Bulls would not go away, finishing the period with a 6-0 run, making the score 41-40 at halftime.
Though T.Williams and Fitzgerald had scored a combined 27 points in the opening period, it was USF’s C.Williams who led all scorers with 20 points.
Though it never fell behind by more than seven points, USF trailed for nearly the first ten minutes of the second period, tying the game twice, but Stringfield’s tying free throws with 10:41 remaining would be the preceding points to the Bulls’ first lead since the first period.
After fighting back and tying the game at 58, USF took a 60-58 lead with 10:10 left in regulation. For the following minutes, it would be the Owls who now played catch up, as the Bulls would not relinquish their lead, despite the Owls staying within five points in the next six minutes.
Trailing 67-62 after a media timeout, Temple leaned on the playmaking of T.Williams and Fitzgerald once again, as Williams free throws, and a driving Fitzgerald layup, outscored USF 4-2.
With the deficit now closed to one point, and the possession with Temple, with 43 seconds remaining, through multiple defenders Fitzgerald found a wide open Brown for a tying three-point field goal.
Following a timeout, C.Williams possessed the ball for the Bulls, and drove to the basket, drawing a foul on T.Williams, who attempted to draw a charge. Sinking both free throws, C.Williams gave USF a 71-69 lead.
With no timeouts, and 21 seconds left in the game, Fitzgerald elected to drive into the lane for a pull up jumper, but C.Williams recorded the rejection.
“[Fitzgerald] is a freshman,” Cardoza said. “I whispered in her ear ‘Don’t settle for the jump shot’, and I’m sure she just saw the big kid standing in there, and she knew she couldn’t get all the way to the basket, and she shot the ball.”
With a made free throw on the next possession, USF led 72-69, but Temple had one more opportunity. With the final seconds expiring, Fitzgerald found herself open from the left wing for a potential tying three-pointer, but the shot resulted in an air ball.
“If I had to put the ball in her hands again, I would,” Cardoza said.
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @BErick1123