Guru's Overniter: Opening Burst Sends Temple Past SMU to 20th Win; St. Joe's Stays Hot
PHILADELPHIA – Temple took care of business early against SMU Wednesday night and then allowed the Mustangs to do some roaming with their superior height but not run wild the remaining three periods in a 66-52 triumph in the American Athletic Conference.
The outcome made 20 become 7 as Temple (20-5, 10-2AAC) reached a 20-victory or more win total for the seventh time in Owls’ coach Tony Cardoza’s nine seasons running the program.
It was act as a national power night for the home team in McGonigle Hall.
Just 24 hours earlier, Temple was made No. 25 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, the first ranking appearance for the Owls in either the coaches’ or Associated Press weekly media votes since 2006 when Candice Dupree was the headliner under Dawn Staley.
Cardoza, however, has her own marquee performer in senior Feyonda Fitzgerald, who has had a nice supporting cast at the moment living up to the second-place forecast the American Coaches placed on Temple back in the fall.
The point guard product of Norfolk, Va., who is on several national watch lists for player or guard of the year, had 17 points, dealt six assists and grabbed five steals while shooting 7-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-7 on three-point attempts.
Donnaizha Fountain, who hails from Cardoza’s hometown of Roxbury, Mass., did her two-way threat again for the second straight night, this time collecting a game-high 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while blocking two shots and also tossing a trio of 3-pointers.
Alliya Butts, the the all-time Temple leader in treys, only had one and scored just seven points but still dealt five assists and grabbed three steals.
Tanaya Atkinson scored 12 off the bench and Ruth Sherrill had a game-high 13 rebounds while dealing two assists and blocking three shots.
SMU (13-12, 4-8) arrived here fresh off becoming Connecticut consecutive victim number 99 in Storrs on Saturday and in the first 10 minutes, the Mustangs could have felt they were still in Gampel on the Huskies’ campus.
Temple may not have shot very well but the Owls ripped off 12 points before SMU got its first score and basket with 2 minutes, 25 seconds left in the period and then the Mustangs were swamped 7-2 the rest of the quarter to make it 19-4 before the visitors could get their bearings.
In the first period, the Owls did not commit a turnover nor a foul and only had seven turnovers the rest of the way while, defensively, refused to allow an opponent trey for the second time this season with SMU making only two attempts.
“Being able to get out in transition is key for us,” Cardoza said of the explosive start. “Obviously, they’re really big, they can score inside, so they started taking advantage of their low post game and got out in transition, but I just felt we found ways to increase the lead.”
In the first half, Temple threw a shutout in points off turnovers, 7-0, before SMU came back to win the category by one 11-10, though moot by then.
“That was really important,” Cardoza said of the statistic after two periods, “because that’s how we get our energy by getting stops and then getting out in transition, and then everyone is touching the basketball.
“We really do thrive off of that and when we’re not doing it, we’re a little stagnant. So we’re always harping on it, trying to get stops and get out and run and it just so happens, they were scoring and we let them set up in their defense.”
Dai’ja Thomas had 18 points for SMU while Stephanie Collins and McKenzie Adams each scored 10 for the visitors.
As for getting her first ranking with Temple, Fitzgerald said, “This really means a lot. This is what we’ve been waiting for the whole time, but to know the hard work has paid off and being noticed is great but, like coach says, we’re not going to stop here.
“Just because we’re ranked … now we have to make sure we’re going to keep going and do what we have to do each and every day as a team so we can compete.”
Meanwhile, thanks to Central Florida’s road upset of South Florida on Tuesday in Tampa and the Owls’ win here, Temple is a game ahead of the Bulls in second but just ahead is part two of the pseudo Bermuda Triangle the conference set up on the schedule.
The Owls head to USF Sunday at 1 p.m. and then on to Connecticut next Wednesday and Storrs where Temple will likely become UConn consecutive victim No. 102. They then finish up the regular season hosting Cincinnati and visiting UCF.
Obviously, a win at South Florida and then getting Ws out of the last two games and the early rounds of next month’s tournament at Mohegan near New London, Conn., would lock up an at-large bid to end the recent drought of absences from the NCAA tourney.
So what does it take Sunday to get that key win?
“Just making shots,” Cardoza said. “I mean, what did we lose by here last time, four points (55-51)? So just making shots. And obviously we will have to play defense.”
Saint Joseph’s Wins While La Salle Loses in Atlantic 10 Action
The Hawks continued to shine down the stretch in pursuit of a good seed position in the Atlantic 10 tournament next month in Richmond by visiting the city ahead of time Wednesday night, beating Virginia Commonwealth 80-70 while La Salle missed a golden opportunity at home in Tom Gola Arena, losing to St. Louis 79-74.
It was the last time on the road in the regular season for Saint Joseph’s and the Hawks enjoyed the trip by shooting over 70 percent in the third period to put distance between themselves and the host Rams (13-14, 6-8 A-10) in the Siegel Center.
The Hawks had their big quarter coming out of a 33-33 tie at the half and at last reached .500 and a chance to get WNIT eligible for an at-large bid.
They are also 10-4 in the conference and since the horrendous low point of 2-11 in early January, they have been on an 11-2 run that could be at least one better in that stretch, having lost at first-place Dayton in overtime.
Adashia Franklyn had a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while teammate Sarah Veilleux got her first one, likewise, with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The Hawks were .500 on three-point attempts, shooting 9-for-18 and also were 15-for-19 on the foul line.
Chelsea Woods was also in double figures with 10 points and Alyssa Monaghan scored 16 while Mackenzie Rule tied her career best with nine points as the visitors gained a sweep in the season series.
Karen Robinson led two other teammates in double figures with 19 points.
Celebrating senior day Saturday, the Hawks will host Davidson at 1 p.m. and then George Mason next Tuesday.
Saint Joseph’s is alone in fourth, two games behind first-place Dayton (18-8, 12-2) and one behind the second place duo of Saint Louis (21-6, 11-3) and George Washington (18-8, 11-3).
The top two teams get byes and the next six will host first-round games the weekend of Feb. 25-26 before the remainder of the tournament moves to the Richmond Coliseum the following weekend.
The Hawks must win one of their last two or Fordham lose one to finish fourth and there is an outside chance they could land in third.
La Salle (15-11, 8-6), meanwhile is alone in sixth, one game ahead of Duquesne (14-13, 7-7) and Richmond (13-14, 7-7) after Wednesday night.
The Explorers, who finish up at Massachusetts Sunday and hosting Fordham next Wednesday, have lost to Duquesne and beaten Richmond in terms of head-to-head tiebreakers in the final standings.
If they finish in a tie with Fordham for a spot, the outcome of their head-to-head will decide the tiebreak while if they were to tie Saint Joseph’s, they would lose on the Hawks’ 2-0 sweep of them..
In Wednesday’s game, two La Salle stars had season highs – Amy Griffin with 26 points and Jasmine Alston had 17 -- while Adreanna Miller had 15, but La Salle was unable to overtake the Billikins down the stretch.
There were five lead changes in the middle of the final period before Jordyn Frantz of the visitors hit a pair of free throws for a 67-66 lead with 4 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game.
Sadie Stipanovich, who is a cousin of Penn senior star Sydney Stipanovich, had 28 points and eight rebounds for Saint Louis, who had been the preseason favorite in the A-10 coaches poll.
Rutgers Topped by Purdue in Big Ten Showdown of Defenses
The host Scarlet Knights lost out in a conference battle at home 55-42 to the visiting Boilermakers (16-11, 7-6 Big Ten), who got 19 points from Ashley Morrissette while Dominique Oden scored 10 points and Ae’Rianna Harris grabbed 14 rebounds.
Shrita Parker got 11 points for Rutgers (6-20, 3-10) while Desiree Keeling had eight points and eight rebounds.
The two teams battled to a 9-9 tie after the opening period and then the Boilermakers at 15-11 over the halfway mark of the next period began to pull away and never trailed though Rutgers was back within one on the next possession off a Aliyah Jeune three-pointer.
The Scarlet Knights head to Wisconsin Saturday for a noon tip, then head to Northwestern Thursday before returning to host Ohio State the following Sunday, Feb. 26.
Purdue is alone in sixth by a half-game at the moment while Rutgers is tied with Illinois for 11th but in 12th off a head-to-head loss.
None of the locals are playing Thursday but on Friday and Saturday, Penn and Princeton are back on the road in the Ivy race over the halfway spot as they head to lower New England.
On Friday, the defending champion Quakers of Penn are at Brown with a two-game lead and the only team unbeaten in the league race for the four spots in the new tournament that will be at The Palestra next month.
Brown is holding the fourth spot at the moment with a two-game lead on Cornell, which will need the Bears to get swept and themselves beat visiting Dartmouth and Harvard to get into contention.
Princeton, a half-game behind Harvard, opens at Yale and then Saturday to Brown, which upset the Tigers in Jadwin last month. Penn will close its trip Saturday in New Haven. Both games are on front ends of doubleheaders with the men, a setup caused by rearrangements to accommodate the tournament.
Yale cannot afford to get swept and actually needs to sweep the Ivy southerners and get help to avoid being virtually eliminated after many expected the Bulldogs back in the preseason to be one of the four in the tourney field.
Villanova, trying to enhance its WNIT at-large possibilities as a backup or standings slot in the Big East, on Friday will host Xavier at 7:30 p.m. and then will host Butler Sunday at 1 p.m.
Drexel visits Towson while Delaware visits Northeastern, Friday, both games at 7 p.m., and then Sunday it’s part two of the Colonial Athletic Association border war with the Blue Hens coming to town here at 2 p.m., a game right now behind the third-place Dragons, who will host in their Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Speaking of border wars, on Saturday, Lafayette is at Lehigh at 2 p.m. in the Patriot League.
UConn is a Tulane Saturday night going for win No. 101.
The other games have been mentioned for Saturday.
The Sunday action has also been mentioned in the preceding narrative.
So that’s the wrap.