Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
Sheldon McClellan brought home 16 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday evening at Madison Square Garden, as his contributions carried Miami over Temple 60-57, advancing the Hurricanes into the NIT Championship game this Thursday against the winner of Stanford and Old Dominion.
Prior to the game, Miami confirmed that star shooting guard Angel Rodriguez would sit out Tuesday due to a nagging right wrist injury he initially suffered four weeks ago against North Carolina.
The first half began with an exchange of buckets, as Owls’ Quenton DeCosey nailed two buckets for five points to put Temple ahead 5-2. After a Jaylen Bond made layup six minutes in, Miami center Tonye Jekiri left the game with an apparent facial injury after inadvertent contact by Bond, which then led to a quick 8-0 run by Temple to extend their lead to 15-9 with less than thirteen minutes remaining in the half.
With three minutes left, Miami swapped roles with the Owls, posting their own 9-0 run off of five Temple turnovers to trim the game to a 4 point Owls lead. After shooting 10 of 23 from the floor, the Owls entered the locker room with a 30-25 lead at halftime.
Miami’s Jekiri did not return to action for the remainder of the game due to a mild concussion, but the Hurricanes managed to outnumber Temple on the glass 19 to 17. Miami shot 33% (10-33) from the field, hitting only two of ten jumpers from behind the arc. Guard Davon Reed led the Hurricanes with six points and four rebounds, while Owls’ Quenton DeCosey led all scorers with seven points, including four rebounds from forward Jaylen Bond.
The second half opened with a deep three by Canes’ forward Ivan Cruz Uceda to cut the Miami deficit to 30-28. With six points in the first, freshman Obi Enechionyia found the bucket for five more points to put Temple up 39-33 with 13:52 remaining in regulation.
With 8:09 left to go, McClellan drilled a three pointer to give the Canes the lead 44-43 for the first time since the 15:08 mark in the first half. Immediately after McClellan’s jumper, Jaylen Bond suffered an apparent leg cramp and was helped off the court by trainers and did not return to the floor.
Miami rode off with the momentum and extended the lead with a layup by McClellan to make the score 56-49 with 3:36 remaining. The Owls’ second half shooting touch went cold, as Temple shot an abysmal 9 of 40 from the floor (22%) and failed to make one three pointer in 15 attempts by the end of regulation.
With late made free throws in the closing seconds, Miami managed to escape without the help of Rodriguez and Jekiri, advancing to the NIT championship game Thursday evening in New York.
Miami’s leading scorer was McClellan who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Hurricanes managed to drill 13 of 26 buckets in the second half, while also out-rebounding the Owls 45-41.
Enechionyia was the evening’s leading scorer with 17 points, including eight total rebounds and five blocks. As Temple’s solitary freshman, he believes that confidence in his abilities will positively influence his team’s performance in the future.
“Once I get going, the confidence goes up,” said Enechionyia. “I was just trying to keep my team in the game.”
Temple finished shooting 19 for 63 from the floor (30%). Coach Fran Dunphy was disappointed with the game’s final outcome, but realizes the opportunities to make baskets did not lean in the Owls’ favor.
“We got ourselves to the rim a number of times, but we just didn’t finish it,” said Dunphy. “[Miami] did a better job than we did in the second half, and they deserve a lot of credit.”
Senior guard Will Cummings played his final game in a Temple uniform Tuesday, and after four years in Philadelphia, he looks forward to taking the next step in his basketball career.
“If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Cummings. “It’s been a great ride. You can always do more, and I just want to do more next season.”
In 121 games as an Owl, Cummings finished with a total of 1,270 points and 363 assists. Dunphy praised Cummings for his performances on and off the court in all four seasons.
“[Will] is a great player and a great teammate,” Dunphy said. “He exemplifies what a good teammate is. He’s been a terrific guy and a great representative of Temple.”
The Owls ended the 2014-15 season with an overall record of 26-11, tied for the third most wins by an Owls team in the last fifteen seasons. With another year in the books, Dunphy insists that next year has now begun, and adjustments must be made this offseason.
“I thought we had a terrific season, and I’m very proud of our team, certainly of our seniors,” said Dunphy. “We were proud to be in the NIT, but we didn’t do enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. We need to get started on next year right away.”