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Rutgers outlasts Temple, snaps 2-game skid in 61-51 win

<p>Junior guard Tyler Scaife dribbles up the court in Rutgers 61-51 win over Temple. She finished the game with eight points, four rebounds and an assist.</p>

Junior guard Tyler Scaife dribbles up the court in Rutgers 61-51 win over Temple. She finished the game with eight points, four rebounds and an assist.

In what seems to have become a common trend for the Rutgers women’s basketball team, the offense appeared as if it was stuck in the mud to open Sunday's game against Temple. 

The Scarlet Knights made just one of their first 10 shots as a slow-starting offense seemed like it was going to put them in a deep, early hole for the third consecutive game.

But a swarming Knights’ defense allowed its offense to work through its struggles by completely shutting down a high-powered Temple offense and ultimately pushing Rutgers (2-2) to a 61-51 victory over Temple (2-1) at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.

“In looking at Temple, they scored close to 90 points in their game against Florida and so I anticipated that as much,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “I thought our team did a good job of trying to track their players, we knew who the main players were. So we kind of played a half man, half zone which allowed us to get out there a little bit faster, or at least fast enough.”

After surrendering 77 and 69 points, respectively, in their two prior games, the Knights came out with a bundle of energy on the defensive end. Strong help defense and quick rotations stifled the Owls’ half-court offense, limiting them to just 15 points on 6-of-40 shooting in the first half.

Although the offense had yet another slow start, the bench provided a much needed spark by pouring in 14 of the Knights’ 26 first-half points. Sophomore guard Sharita Parker chipped in 9 points and senior guard Cynthia Hernandez added seven more off the bench.

Rutgers’ defensive intensity continued into the second half as the offense started to gain some momentum, allowing the Knights to push their lead to as many as 16 midway through the third quarter. 

Rutgers rebounded from a 31 percent first-half shooting performance by scoring 35 points in the second half on 59 percent shooting. Although Temple came back with 36 points in the second half, the Knights still held the Owls to just 38.7 percent shooting.

The Knights led for more than 33 minutes of the game and their defense kept the Owls at arms length for most of the second half. Temple made a late push in the waning stages of the game to cut the lead to four points with 1:50 remaining. 

But a Tyler Scaife 3-pointer as the shot clock expired on the following possession pushed the lead back to seven and put the game on ice with a minute remaining.

A balanced Rutgers offense was led by senior wing Kahleah Copper, who chipped in a team-high 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Copper also helped out in the rebounding department —  a weak point for the Scarlet Knights in the beginning stages of the season — by pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds.

“The other day, Coach (Stringer) made a point that I was going back as the ball was going through the rim,” Copper said. “So I just tried to commit myself to the rebounding side of it and the offense will come. So I just tried to rebound everything today.”

Through its first two games, Temple was averaging 87 points propelled by their two lead guards Feyonda Fitzgerald and Alliya Butts. Both Fitzgerald and Butts entered the game averaging more than 20 points on better than 50 percent shooting. 

But Scaife and Briyona Canty guarded the Owls’ high-scoring backcourt tandem and kept them bottled up for most of the game. Fitzgerald scored a game-high 27 points, but it took her 26 field goal attempts to do so. Butts finished right behind her with 21 points but shot just 38 percent from the field.

When Temple’s guards were able to break down the defense, senior center Rachel Hollivay was at the rim waiting for them. Hollivay swatted away five shots, with most of them coming after she rotated to help from the weak side. She also finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 10 points on an efficient 5-for-7 shooting.

“We’ve been working on help defense for like the past few days and so I just made it a point to get over there,” Hollivay said. “I was really hyped for this game for some odd reason, so I was ready.”

Although it wasn’t a perfectly played game all around for the Knights, it’s a win that they will take following two disappointing performances.

“We’re happy to get the win, just happy to get the win.” Stringer said. “We needed it and we’re going to have to do far better if we intend to be there when it counts.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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