Pressure ‘D’ propels RU to win at Temple
PHILADELPHIA — Early in the second half Saturday at McGonigle Hall, C. Vivian Stringer agitatedly clapped her hands, clenched her fists and yelled words of encouragement.
The frustrated head coach urged the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which matched a season-low 22 first-half points against Temple, to get its act together. The Scarlet Knights were out of sync offensively and getting sliced man-to-man defensively.
Then Stringer switched to zone defense and her trademark “55” half-man, half-zone full-court press. Rutgers generated its first two-possession lead with 8:37 left and pulled ahead by as many as 15 before settling for a 74-68 win.
“It was enough to throw [Temple] off-rhythm,” Stringer said. “In particular the ‘55,’ I thought that they really got after it. It was good to see. It’s encouraging, really encouraging.”
Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper, playing in her hometown for the first time since high school, came alive late. She erupted for a team-high 18 points in the second half with several crisp slashes to the hoop.
Junior wing Betnijah Laney, who was born in Philadelphia, added 24 points and 10 rebounds to help Rutgers (15-4, 6-2) avoid its third upset defeat.
Copper estimated about 50 friends and family members attended the game but insisted she never felt anxious, despite tallying just 2 points in the opening 20 minutes.
“I was calm the entire time, but I just had to really let it flow and relax,” Copper said. “I just started doing something — defensive rebounds or getting a steal, and all of that contributed to helping me click and start scoring.”
But Stringer’s emotions also nearly cost the Knights.
After junior point guard Syessence Davis fouled guard Rateska Brown from 3-point territory with 4.7 seconds left, Stringer sprung off the bench and swung her arms in frustration.
She initially received a technical foul that would have given Temple (10-9, 4-4) a total of five free throws down by 6 points. Then the officials discussed the call and waved it off.
“I wasn’t expressing anything other than to myself,” Stringer said. “I don’t know what it was. It really didn’t matter at that particular point. [The official] just said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realize [what happened].’”
Arguably none of it would have been possible without sophomore guard Briyonta Canty’s critical spark off the bench.
With the Knights trailing, 34-28, with 15:05 left, Canty scored 8 of Rutgers’ next 12 points. She swiped a heads-up steal off a Temple inbound and converted a layup for the lead. Then she gave Rutgers another lead a minute later with a 3-pointer to finish with 13 points.
The Knights took command soon after.
“I was just staying focused and giving my teammates what they needed — energy,” Canty said. “We needed to keep the intensity up, keep attacking and playing ‘D.’”
Little materialized offensively for Rutgers in the early stages.
The 1,304 fans in attendance seemed to have an effect on the Knights’ sloppy half-court offense, which committed 11 turnovers and shot just 33.3 percent in the first half.
Temple guard Feyonda Fitzgerald poured in 11 first-period points, while center Taylor Robinson controlled the paint and contributed to sophomore forward Rachel Hollivay’s early foul trouble.
“I figured that that game was probably going to be an 8- or 10-point game at the most,” Stringer said. “Temple is a very solid basketball team. … They’re fighters, they’re never out of it. As long as you can shoot it at the 3-point range and then they drive as much as they do, that’s always a concern. We knew that we had to play for 40 minutes.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.