For the first time since 2012, neither Feyonda Fitzgerald nor Alliya Butts is the lead guard for Temple.
Fitzgerald is the leading scorer on her professional team in Turkey, and Butts, the program’s seventh all-time leading scorer, is out for the year with a torn ACL.
The results on offense have been mixed. Temple (4-2) scored 96 points in its season opener against Delaware State University on Nov. 10, but it has also fallen short of 60 points twice. Temple’s 68.2 points per game is only 1.7 points per game less than its average last season, but it ranks 160th out of 345 teams in Division I.
Last season, Fitzgerald and Butts combined for 70.9 percent of the Owls’ assists. This season, senior guards Khadijah Berger and Tanaya Atkinson and freshman guards Emani Mayo and Desiree Oliver have combined for 70.4 percent of the Owls’ assists.
“It’s a lot of responsibility taking over for someone like Fey as a lead guard,” Oliver said. “When I visited and when Temple played on TV, I watched a lot of her game and I’ve been trying to model my game after her.”
Scoring-wise, Atkinson has shouldered a huge load for Temple. She is averaging 23 points per game and is the only Owl averaging double figures.
Last season, Temple had four players average at least 13 points per game. When one had a rough night shooting the ball, another player stepped up to fill the void. When Fitzgerald shot 2-for-10 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range in Temple’s win against the University of Vermont on Dec. 4, 2016, Butts scored 16 points.
When Butts shot 4-for-12 in Temple’s win against Penn on Jan. 25, former guard Donnaizha Fountain shot 9-for-17 and scored 20 points. After the 2016-17 season, she transferred to Seton Hall University, where she is the Pirates’ leading scorer.
In Temple’s 64-48 loss to the University of Mississippi on Saturday, Atkinson scored a team-high 22 points and shot 7-of-20 from the field for her lowest field-goal percentage of the season.
Atkinson was the only Temple player to score in double figures against the Rebels. Temple’s second-leading scorer, freshman forward Mia Davis, shot 2-for-8, and Mayo, the third-leading scorer, shot 0-for-7.
“As soon as [Alliya] went down, I felt like I was the one who needed to step up and lead and take a bigger role scoring-wise,” Atkinson said. “I know what this program is about and what Temple basketball means. So I’ve put it on myself to show these younger players what it means, and I do that by showing them what I do and helping them learn what they do.”
After the Owls gave up more than 70 points in their first two games, coach Tonya Cardoza encouraged her team to give a better effort on the defensive end. The next game, Temple gave up just 36 points. Of the Owls’ past four opponents, Mississippi is the only one to score more than 54 points.
Temple allows 60.3 points per game, which ranks among the top-100 defenses in Division I.
Temple is forcing 19 turnovers per game and 8.7 steals per game. The forced turnovers have led to 18.8 points off turnovers per game.
Temple’s game against Mississippi started a seven-game homestand. The Owls lost the first contest of the stretch, which will end with a game against the University of South Carolina on Dec. 21 at the Liacouras Center.
The defending Division I champion Gamecocks, ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, have started the season 6-1.
“We need to focus on the defensive side of making sure that we’re making them work for everything that they get,” Cardoza said. “I know we’re going to make shots, but there are going to be days where they don’t go in and we have to make sure that we’re making it difficult for other teams.”