LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J.-Last year, Temple battled to a three-point loss to Rider, 66-63, at home. This year they marched into the Bronc’s Zoo in Rider’s Alumni Gymnasium and hoped for a different outcome.
In Rider’s home opener in the building they rarely lose in (65 wins out of the last 88 games), the Broncs were forced to take on a charged up 2-0 Temple women’s basketball team.
The Owls jumped out to an early 13-9 lead and never looked back, winning 74-65.
The team was led by Holmdel, N.J. native Regan Apo’s 16 points and five assists. Stacey Smalls (11) and Lisa Jakubowicz (10) also scored in double figures.
But what really took the game off the line from Rider, and off the boards, was the athletic play of Athena Christoforakis.
Christoforakis, a junior college transfer from Florida, scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds. And she did it all off the bench.
With Jakubowicz in early foul trouble, Christoforakis got a chance to go in and turn heads- something she’s been doing all season.
“Athena is still coming to terms with not starting and that’s keeping her hungry,” coach Dawn Staley said. “But she’s got to beat Ieesha (Turnage) and she’s got to beat out Lisa. You do that at practice, you don’t necessarily do it in the game.”
If Jakubowicz’s or Turnage’s starting jobs were up for grabs on game day, Christoforakis might have won one already.
The six-foot junior is averaging close to nine rebounds a game to complement her seven points. Having to do it all off the bench is an even bigger accomplishment. But as to the starting job, Christoforakis would rather focus on helping the team win- even if starting does seep into her subconscious.
“I understand what they’re trying to do,” Christoforakis said. “I just need to know what my role is, go out there and play and do what they want me to do. When I do get in I have to show them that I might deserve a (shot at) a starting spot.”
Both Jakubowicz and Christoforakis played 21 minutes against Rider. The congruent nature of the two is something that Staley has been thankful for.
“When we make substitutions, we want that from the point guard to the center,” Staley said. “They’re (Christoforakis and Jakubowicz) neck and neck. They do some great things when they’re out there on the basketball court.”
On the court, the Owls made Rider suffer for their 22 turnovers, 14 of which were caused by steals. Turnage and Smalls both had three picks. Rider tried to make up for that on rebounds, but Temple out-rebounded the Broncs 41-35.
Temple had 28 points off of turnovers and another 20 on put backs. Those, according to Rider coach Eldon Price, hurt the worst.
“We have trouble with any team that’s going to bang around the boards,” Price said. “We just don’t mix it up well around the boards. Right now we get beat with put backs.”
Price, in his 12th season at the helm of Rider, thought his team had the edge over the Owls. They are, he conceded, the same team, plus a few newcomers, that Rider edged out last season.
“We thought we were going to beat them. We absolutely expected to beat them,” Price said. “They just wanted to win the game more. And this is our court, we never lose a game here.”
The players the Owls added, including Christina Cruz (eight points) and Christoforakis made sure that the outcome would be different from last season.
“They’re playing with a different attitude totally,” Price said. “They’re playing hard, they’re defending the heck out of you. I think they’re playing well as a team. Last year they just didn’t have the same spirit and it’s basically the same players.”
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy win,” Staley said. “They beat us last year so we knew they were definitely a threat from the three-point line. I think we contained them for 35 minutes of the ball game. We kinda let our guards down at the end.”
Rider got as close as eight points in the second half and fought hard down the stretch. Trailing by 22 points with eight minutes left, Rider went on a 21-8 run. With just under two minutes left, Rider’s Jane Altemus hit a three-pointer and Rebecca Boteler hit two more in succession.
But the three jays only got Rider within nine points and time expired giving Temple their third consecutive win.
Temple will try to extend its streak as it travels down to the Main Line and takes on Villanova on Saturday at 2 p.m.