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Temple women maintain AAC momentum at East Carolina

01/19/2022, 9:15pm EST
By Mitchell Northam

Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch)

GREENVILLE, N.C. --- Mia Davis didn’t have her best game, but it didn’t matter.

Temple’s star veteran forward made just 5 of 19 shots – a stat line that might’ve signaled a loss for the Owls on any other night. But on Wednesday evening at Minges Coliseum near the coast of North Carolina, Temple put forth arguably its best defensive performance of the season in front of a sparse announced crowd of 495 fans.

Behind a defense that forced 19 turnovers and allowed just one 3-pointer, Temple won its third straight game and beat East Carolina, 56-41.

Mia Davis (above) didn't have her best night from the floor, but was still a big factor in Temple's win. (Photo: Mitchell Northam/CoBL)

That’s the lowest amount of points an opponent has scored against Temple this season. And East Carolina’s shooting mark of 28.1% from the floor is also a season-low for any Temple opponent. Additionally, Temple held the AAC’s second-leading scorer – ECU’s Taniyah Thompson, previously averaging 17 points per-game – to just 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

“I definitely felt like we didn't really let them feed off of turnovers and get easy transition buckets,” Temple head coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I also felt like (Emani Mayo) did a great job on Thompson, of crowding her and not really allowing her to get good looks at the basket. Emani did a great job of staying in her space and not allowing her to really get anything wide open.

“Just a total team effort of being smart.”

As the Owls (8-6; 3-0 AAC) get into the thick of league play in the American Athletic Conference, they’re playing some of their best basketball, and showing that they can win a variety of ways – not just by leaning on Davis. Before this stretch of three wins in a row, Temple had lost three straight games before COVID-19 intervened and forced a handful of postponements.

“Every day, I feel like we're trying to get better,” Cardoza said. “Coming out of the COVID, I felt like we've had some really good practices that in turn have led to some good basketball games for us, and some important wins. And we just need to keep doing that.”

Davis was key to Temple’s important second quarter run though, which put the initial large cushion between the Owls and the Pirates (8-10; 1-4 AAC). Davis shot 1-of-5 from the floor in the first quarter and had just three points. In the second quarter, her shooting percentages didn’t improve all that much – just 2 of 6 – but she did get to the foul line, where she capitalized. In a period where Temple outscored East Carolina 15-4, Davis had seven points and connected on each of her three free throw attempts.

Additionally, the Owls’ sharp ball movement in the second quarter forced East Carolina out of its comfort. Amid Temple’s run, the Pirates switched from zone to man defense.

“I felt like, defensively, we weren’t allowing them to get anything,” Cardoza said of Temple’s impressive second quarter. “And in turn, we were able to attack their zone.”

East Carolina clawed back a bit in the third quarter, coming out of halftime on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to six points. But Alexa Williamson put an end to any comeback effort by the Pirates as she scored six of Temple’s points during a 12-3 run that pushed the Owls’ lead back to double-digits.

Temple cruised from there, growing its lead to as much as 21 points in the fourth quarter.

(Photo: Mitchell Northam/CoBL)

Williamson (above, left) wound up having the most impressive individual performance in the game, tallying 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, six rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes. Shantay Taylor led the Owls on the boards with nine in 16 minutes, both season highs, while freshman guard Jasha Clinton dished out 10 assists for the second time this season.

“She was huge,” Cardoza said of Williamson. “She’s super-athletic. She’s that scoring presence on the block that definitely helps. Rebounding the ball defensively, I thought she was really good. If she stays on the floor, we’re always in a good position. She’s playing good basketball right now.”

Davis – who entered the game as the AAC’s leading scorer, averaging 18 points per-game – finished her outing against East Carolina with 15 points, five rebounds, two steals and an assist. She was often matched up with Tylar Bennett, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Clemson who leads the AAC in blocks this season. Bennett finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks for the Pirates, but Davis got the last laugh, leaving Greenville with a coveted W.

“Honestly, I didn’t even realize (Davis) was 5 of 19 (shooting), because she did impact the game. I thought she did a great job defensively, just holding us together, helping us break the press,” Cardoza said. “I thought Mia was just being super aggressive and not just settling.”

The Owls struggled offensively some, turning the ball over 23 times. But Temple made up for those mistakes by scoring 15 points off ECU’s turnovers, outscoring the Pirates 28-20 in the paint, winning the rebounding battle 42-39, and shooting 80% from the charity stripe.

Temple remains on the road for its next contest, heading to Tampa for a game on Saturday at South Florida. The Bulls recently fell out of the AP Top 25 Poll after a double-digit loss to UCF on Sunday. Still, USF won the AAC last season and was picked to win it again this year in the league’s preseason poll.

If the Owls are to win their fourth straight game, Cardoza knows it won’t be easy.

“Obviously, offensively, they have a lot of weapons,” Cardoza said of USF. “They have a great mix of inside-outside and we're going to have to sit down and defend… If we lock them down defensively, and do a good job, I think that'll benefit us, so that we can get out in transition a little bit more.”

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