PHILADELPHIA – Just take a look at the statistics of the Temple Owls, and you can see why this performance that the Fairfield University women’s basketball team is something they should be proud of. The Stags went toe-to-toe with a Temple squad that has now won four-straight including a victory over a nationally ranked team, but this time the underdog did not come out on top in the city of Philadelphia, Pa. Despite leading by six points late in the third quarter, Temple hit a buzzer beating jumper to end the third quarter and then scored the first 14 points of the fourth to take a 73-59 victory over the Stags.
In the game, Samantha Coopertied a career-high with 21 points and set a personal best with five 3-pointers against a Temple squad that has beaten No. 17 DePaul, Villanova, Rutgers, and Quinnipiac. On the opposite side, the Stags held the ESPNW National Player of the Week Feyonda Fitzgerald to 12 points, but she did set a career-high with 12 assists.
Right from the beginning the Stags (4-7, 1-1 MAAC) played with the sense of determination and confidence needed for an underdog. Fairfield exploded out of the gate on both sides of the ball by scoring the game’s first six points and forcing three turnovers on Temple’s (8-3) first four possessions forcing the home side to take a timeout, three minutes into the game.
The Owls quickly responded to Head Coach’s Tonya Cardoza’s words and scored the next seven points out of the timeout to take the lead for the first time in the game. But aside from that 2:30 stretch, the Stags looked like the better team. Fairfield was clicking on every cylinder imaginable and withstood the Temple run to take a 15-9 lead after the first quarter. As usual, Cooperwas a big reason for that advantage as she led the team with five points over the first 10 minutes. Cooper’s production far exceeded those five points as she was the leader on the defensive front by blocking two shots, one setting up a fast break for the Stags.
The ability of the Stags to endure the tough times on the court became the storyline of the first half. Temple scored 23 points in the second quarter, but every time the Stags needed to make a big play they executed. This was most notably shown right before the second quarter media timeout when Temple made four-straight shots, but the Stags answered each and every time by making all of their shots during that span. Fairfield did more than match the home side point for point, they did the little things, whether it was draw a foul or grab a rebound, the Stags closed out arguably the best first half they played all season.
The one time the Stags could not respond was because they were not given a chance. Khadijah Berger connected on a buzzer beating 3-pointer to give Temple a slim 32-31 lead going into halftime. It was the play of guard Alliya Butts that kept the game remotely close as she hit three 3-pointers in the quarter and notched 14 points in the half. The Stags held the defending ESPNW National Player of the Week Feyonda Fitzgerald to just two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first half.
Macey Hollensheadwas the conductor of an offense that hit 44 percent of their shots during the first 20 minutes. The junior dished out a career-high six assists without a turnover in the first half alone as the post players combined for 27 of the 31 points with Cooper leading the way with 11 in the locker room.
Cooper’s shooting hand became red hot in the third quarter as she connected on three 3-pointers as the Stags opened up a six-point lead, their largest of the game. Those long range shots gave Cooper a new career-high as she connected on five in the afternoon.
The Stags used that energy to continue to go toe-to-toe with the American Athletic Conference team. Fairfield hit 41 percent of their shots in the third quarter led by Cooper’s 10. That energy gave the Stags a six-point advantage for most of the quarter, but Temple is a team that can score in bunches and they once again did not give the Stags a chance to answer back. A buzzer beater by Safiya Martin gave Temple a one-point lead going into the final quarter.
That gave Temple the momentum they needed and they responded by scoring the first 14 points of the fourth quarter and held the Stags scoreless for the first five minutes of the period.
Cooper’s personal best matching 21 points led all scorers for Fairfield while Butts tallied the game-high 26 points for the Owls. Casey Smithjoined Cooper in the double digit club with 18 points while hitting all six of her free throws, despite the best efforts of the Temple band. Hollenshead dished out a career-high eight assists for the Stags.
Fairfield will now take a week off for the holidays before returning to MAAC action at Marist on Friday, December 30 at 7pm.