Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– In what could have potentially been Will Cummings’ final game in a Temple uniform, the star senior made a powerful statement with his efforts on the floor Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center, as Cummings tallied 30 points in the Owls’ nail-biting victory over Bucknell 73-67 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The Owls will now advance to the second round of tournament play, as they host No.5 George Washington at the Liacouras Center at eleven o’clock Sunday morning.
Cumming’s contributions also consisted of seven rebounds and an assist in his thirty-two minutes of play. In regard to his shooting performance, Cummings made 9 of 14 from the field, including 3 of 4 behind the arc along with an impressive 9 for 9 finish from the free throw line.
The 30 points scored was the second-most tallied by an Owls’ player since Dalton Pepper’s 33 point performance last season against Cincinnati. Cummings finished one point shy of his career-high 31 points, but broke his season-high of 27 points this evening in front of nearly three-thousand faithful fans.
Last Sunday evening, Temple was denied a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a final record of 23-10, and while Cummings realizes that his collegiate days are coming to a close, he believes that the only way to prove that the NCAA committee made a mistake is to bring home an NIT championship.
“I’m trying to give everything I’ve got,” Cummings said. “We didn’t want to go out on a sour note, and we’re still playing basketball. Once we get to Madison Square Garden, we’ll be able to prove a point.”
Wednesday night’s contest began with an abrupt 6-0 lead by Bucknell, which led Owls’ coach Fran Dunphy to call an immediate timeout. After an early wake up call, Temple’s lackadaisical effort disappeared, as they responded with a 14-0 run to put the Owls ahead 14-6 with less than fourteen minutes remaining in the first half.
After sharp shooting in the opening six minutes by Temple, Bucknell matched the Owls with a 13-2 run of their own, putting the Bisons up by three, 21-18 at the 9:05 mark. The final nine minutes consisted of both the Owls and Bison trading buckets, as the score at recess was knotted at 35 apiece.
After the first twenty minutes, the Owls were forced to make adjustments in the locker room. Bucknell managed to outnumber Temple 25 to 18 in rebounds and also in points in the paint, 16-10. The Owls’ inconsistent shot selection lead to only 12 made buckets on 31 attempts (39%), and the bench scored only 9 points in comparison to Bucknell’s 14.
As the second half began, the Owls regained the lead within the first three minutes with help from a Jesse Morgan three-pointer and a Quenton DeCosey slam dunk. With Temple ahead 51-46 with 12:35 remaining, Bucknell regained the lead with a brief 6-0 run to make the game 52-51 with eleven minutes left.
After the Bison’s quick run, Temple retaliated with an 8-0 run, and the Owls did not surrender the lead for the final ten minutes, solidifying the Owls victory over Bucknell, 73-67. Aside from Cummings’ 30 total points, DeCosey finished with 13 points, five assists, and seven rebounds, while guard Josh Brown brought home 11 points with two assists.
“[Bucknell] had a look in their eye like they wanted to win,” Cummings said. “We had to lock in and realize it was a battle, but at this point, it doesn’t matter how you win. A win is a win.”
Temple scored 15 points off of five costly turnovers by Bucknell, and Bison’s head coach Dave Paulsen believed that the Owls’ defensive pressure and transition game made the difference in the final outcome.
“We didn’t execute like we like to down the stretch offensively,” said Paulsen. “[Temple] is an elite defensive team. They really stepped it up defensively in the second half, but I thought our guys went toe to toe with a bigger, stronger, and more athletic team.”
Bucknell’s leading scorer was guard Chris Hass with 15 points, but coach Dunphy was pleased with his players’ execution after three consecutive days of recuperating from Sunday’s emotional mood swings.
“We get a chance to continue to play basketball,” said Dunphy. “There are a lot of teams out there that are very envious of us, still getting a chance to play. We’ve been given this other opportunity, and let’s do the very best that we can do with it.”
Dunphy also was impressed with Josh Brown’s contributions, as the current sophomore guard is assumed to fill the shoes of Cummings starting slot next season.
“We’re counting on [Josh] right now, and he’s getting better every day,” Dunphy said. “He worked the hardest of anybody we have in the program last summer. He doesn’t start every game, but he is in the end of every game.”
While Dunphy has witnessed Brown’s progression over the season, the sophomore guard is embracing the process, and is taking advice from his teammates and coaching staff.
“After all of the hard work I’ve put in, my game is a whole lot better,” Brown said. “When the ball is in my hands, I have to able to knock that shot down. I just try to go out there and do the best that I can, and I have to be aggressive. Coach is always telling me to be more aggressive.”
Temple now stands four wins away from an NIT championship at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and in the mind of Cummings, his motivation to play will be shared with the entire roster.
“It’s a lot of motivation just knowing that my days are numbered with my teammates in practice and in games,” Cummings implied. “In any given game, I can be done. At the end of the day, we love playing basketball, and we need to make sure we’re ready to go against George Washington.”
WHAT’S NEXT: NIT ROUND 2: TEMPLE vs GEORGE WASHINGTON, SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 11:00AM.
TV: ESPN, WATCHESPN, RADIO: WHIP (pregame coverage begins at 10:30AM).