Coach Tonya Cardoza was right.
Following yesterday’s first round Atlantic 10 Conference tournament win against Xavier, the fifth-year head coach said it was going to take the Owls’ effort against the Musketeers “times 10” in order to upset second-seeded Charlotte today in the Quarterfinals.
And then Temple (13-17), the No. 10 seed, won a 48-47 nail-biter. The Owls advance to the semifinals and will face third-seeded Fordham (23-7, 12-2 A-10) tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Hagan Arena.
“I felt like that was a great team effort,” Cardoza said. “We needed everything from everyone. And I felt like no matter what the situation, the biggest thing was just like yesterday, we stayed together.”
Temple shot just 25 percent from the floor, a season low, compared to 32 percent for Charlotte (24-5). However, the Owls’ defense was relentless. They held A-10 Player of the Year, senior forward Jennifer Hailey, to a mere five points on 1-of-6 shooting, and junior guard Ny Hammonds, who came in averaging 12 points per game, to five points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Charlotte’s 47-point performance was its lowest of the season.
“We paid attention to detail and how to guard them,” Cardoza said. “The last time we played them they beat us off the dribble the whole second half. And because they weren’t able to turn the corner on us, they weren’t allowed to get [Hailey] the ball. They struggled and they took shots that maybe they weren’t comfortable with.”
As for 49ers head coach Cara Consuegra, she said she can’t remember a time where Charlotte held its opponent to such a low shooting percentage but still lost.
“My hat goes off to Temple,” Consuegra said. “They played great. They outplayed us in every single manner. They deserved to win, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Owls’ defensive presence was evident from the very get-go, when Temple forced a shot clock violation on Charlotte’s first possession of the game. The game was neck-and-neck throughout the whole first half, with both teams shooting a combined 15-of-61 at the break. The Owls took a slight 22-20 lead into the half after senior center Victoria Macaulay sunk a layup with six seconds remaining.
While Temple had managed to lead at halftime despite shooting just 21 percent, a sense of deja vu set in. On Feb. 6 in Charlotte, the Owls put up a good fight in the first half before faltering in the second, ultimately getting blown out 66-43.
This time, Temple kept on. Fighting through a 9-0 49ers run straight out of the gate in the second half, the Owls responded with a 7-0 run of their own. With roughly eight minutes to go, Temple led 40-33.
“We made key mistakes down the stretch,” Consuegra said. “We just weren’t ourselves. We weren’t focused on our game plan. We didn’t play with the type of effort and passion that we have over the past 13 games and we got what we earned, and that was a loss.”
Trailing by three with a minute and a half remaining, sophomore guard Hilary Sigmon breathed new life into Charlotte with a game-tying three-pointer.
However, after briefly leaving the game with an ankle injury, Temple sophomore point guard Tyonna Williams answered back with a three of her own, putting the Owls ahead by three once again.
“We weren’t able to get crucial stops,” Consuegra said. “When we played them at our place, we held them scoreless over the last 10 or 11 minutes of that game. I told our team going in that none of the games that we’ve won have been easy, we just found ways to win, and unfortunately we just didn’t have that attitude.”
Williams, who had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, cleared the air in regard to her injury following the game. She said not to worry about her moving forward.
“I’m gonna be the same old Tyonna tomorrow,” Williams said. “No excuses.”
Sophomore guard Rateska Brown, Temple’s sixth man, scored a career-high 23 points, going 6-of-13 and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. She hit timely three-pointers and secured a Temple upset with two clutch free throws with only 22 seconds left in the game.
Brown, who consistently provides an offensive spark off of Cardoza’s bench, credits a new demeanor for her biggest performance to date.
“My coaches stress me, ‘let it go on the first [missed] shot,’” Brown said. “So I guess I instilled that in my mind. Because after the first shot I miss I usually get down on myself and pout. So I just got through it and I just kept confidence like they always ask me to.”
Macaulay, who fouled out the first time Temple and Charlotte met this season, shot just 3-of-15 from the field for eight points but was active on the glass, grabbing seven offensive rebounds and 11 boards total. The veteran leader said going up against arguably the best player in the A-10 was no easy task.
“It was tough,” Macaulay said. “But every day is a challenge, and every day I have to guard somebody big and strong in the post, and we just did a good job of defending [Hailey.]”
For Hailey, the feeling was mutual.
“It was really tough because, like coach said, I was going to get double and triple-teamed,” Hailey said. “So it was kind of frustrating when I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do for my team.”
With Hailey and Hammonds held in check, senior guard Jai Forney led the 49ers with 15 points, while senior forward Amanda Dowe backed Forney with 14 points of her own in Charlotte’s losing effort.
The Owls are living proof that anything can happen when it comes to postseason tournaments, as they have managed to advance to the semifinals.
“We have confidence in our guys,” Cardoza said. “Knowing that no matter what the situation, if we stay together things will work out.”
Tyler Sablich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TySablich.