Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– With less than three days remaining until Temple’s first round matchup against the Memphis Tigers in the American Athletic Conference tournament, the Owls were on their home court Tuesday in preparation for Friday afternoon’s contest in Hartford.
Tuesday’s workout was Temple’s first time on the floor since Saturday’s 75-63 victory over the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies.
The Owls have now completed their second season of AAC competition, and have yet to win an American conference tournament game, as Temple was sent home early last March by South Florida in the first round of play.
Senior guard Will Cummings will partake in his fourth and final conference tournament this weekend, and he believes in taking a simple approach to Friday’s opponent.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time,” said Cummings. “We’re trying to play our best basketball and reach our goal.”
Senior transfer Jesse Morgan has been a key component to the Owls’ success in the second half of the season, and with Morgan sharing the ball with Cummings in the backcourt, both ball possession and shot selection must be approached carefully and wisely. The last time Temple faced Memphis was on Feb. 7 at the FedEx Forum, where sophomore Josh Brown nailed the game-winning jump shot in the final seconds to defeat the Tigers 61-60.
“Memphis got into us early and out-rebounded us,” Cummings said. “We have to play confident and take better care of the basketball.”
It was confirmed on Sunday that Memphis forward Austin Nichols is ruled out for Friday’s contest due to a bone bruise in his ankle. Nichols was the Tigers leading scorer with 17 points on Feb. 7 against Temple, but was helped off the court after suffering a sprained ankle with seven minutes remaining in regulation. With or without Nichols’ presence in the frontcourt, Owls coach Fran Dunphy is not relying on a different offensive approach, and he does expect any hiccups in the Tigers’ efficiency.
“We’re going to stick to our guns,” said Dunphy. “I think everybody around us knows that Memphis has rallied, and there’s a reason why we’re closely matched in the seedings.”
Dunphy also insisted that the American conference consists of a level playing field, implying that any team can spoil another.
“Everyone’s in the same boat,” said Dunphy. “I think we’re a well balanced league and anyone can jump and grab anybody else at any time.”
Aside from the Owls’ success at the guard position, forward Obi Enechionyia is the roster’s lone freshman, and he is excited for the first postseason challenge that lies ahead in his collegiate career.
“I’ve heard that conference tournament play is a whole different animal,” said Enechionyia. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Morgan has been able to witness Enechionyia’s progress on and off the court, and he is beyond impressed with Obi’s growth and maturity.
“[Obi] plays like a seasoned veteran,” said Morgan. “He’s been living up to his potential, and he’s matured beyond his years. He’ll be able to fit right in and be comfortable in that environment.”
Prior to Tuesday’s practice, Will Cummings was one of five players named to the AAC’s all-league first team, joined by Memphis forward Austin Nichols and Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright. When informed about the news, Dunphy strongly felt that Cummings was a worthy candidate for the award.
“[Will] has not only had a great basketball career, but also a great academic career,” said Dunphy. “He’s a wonderful representative of the university, and I’m happy for him. He certainly deserves it.”
Temple will look to extend their season further into the month of March, and Cummings is not only playing for his teammates, but for the loyal fan base on N. Broad Street as well.
“We’re trying to make Temple proud and come out with a victory,” said Cummings. “We need to make statement, and hopefully Friday we’ll play our best basketball.”
TEMPLE vs MEMPHIS: Friday, March 13 at 2:00pm. TV coverage on ESPN2, radio coverage beginning at 1:30pm on WHIP.