Written By Tom Hanslin @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– Seniors Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan contributed a combined 41 points for the Owls Sunday afternoon, as Temple managed to defeat the George Washington Colonials 90-77 to advance to the National Invitation Tournament Quarterfinals.
Temple will face the winner of Monday night’s second round match up between Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech, and will host the quarterfinal game at the Liacouras Center Wednesday evening. The winner of the quarterfinal match will punch their ticket to Madison Square Garden in New York City, home to the NIT semifinals and championship game.
Cummings scored 21 points Sunday after tallying a season-high of 30 points against Bucknell last Wednesday, and his motivation to finish out on top is paramount.
“I’m still mad. I’m just trying to keep playing basketball,” said Cummings. “Anything it takes to keep playing basketball is what I’m focused on doing.”
Sunday’s matinee began with the Owls posting a 9-0 run off of five points from Cummings, which then led to Jesse Morgan draining back-to-back three pointers to extend the Temple lead to 15-5 in the first five minutes. Morgan’s hot streak continued in the first half with an additional nine points, finishing 5 for 10 from the field at halftime.
Temple limited George Washington to only 14 points in the first ten minutes due to a strong defensive performance from junior forward Jaylen Bond, who alone brought home 11 rebounds, outnumbering the rest of the Owls’ lineup in the first half.
The Owls’ largest lead hit 13 with a comfortable 30-17 score with less than three minutes remaining in the half. George Washington managed to make up some ground in the final minute, placing the halftime score at 38-30 in favor of Temple. The Owls scored eight points off of five Colonial turnovers, but were outmatched in bench points 11-6 by George Washington. Temple finished the half shooting a collective 13 of 32 (41%) from the floor.
The second half began with a resurgence in the Colonials’ offense, as George Washington trimmed the Owls’ lead to three with eighteen minutes remaining in regulation. Morgan’s 15 points lead all scorers in the first half, and he continued to increase the Colonials’ deficit, nailing his fourth and final shot behind the arc to put the Owls ahead 51-41 with 14:10 remaining.
Early foul trouble by forward Devontae Watson forced Owls’ coach Fran Dunphy to go to his bench, which lead to a smaller lineup on the floor with Devin Coleman as Watson’s replacement.
In Coleman’s 16 minutes of action, the junior guard shot 6 of 8 from the floor, finishing with 13 points, one point shy of his season-high. Coleman sparked the Owls’ offensive push with a three point goal midway through the second half, adding three buckets inside the paint along with two elbow jump shots to extend the Temple lead to 74-59 with five minutes left in regulation.
Will Cummings also ignited the offensive run, tallying 12 points in the second half off of six points from the free throw line. Temple’s most recent success at the charity stripe continued on Sunday, as the Owls finished 21 of 24 (88%) from the line. Temple’s final nine points came from the free throw line, putting the Owls out on top 90-77 as the game clock expired.
Cummings was the Owls’ leading scorer with 21 points, with Morgan finishing one point behind with 20. Cummings believes that his team is on a roll, and the consistent streak of scoring and most importantly, winning, can continue into Wednesday night.
“It feels good to keep playing, no matter what tournament you’re in,” Cummings said. “I think we’re playing with an edge; we stand confident, and I think we have something to prove.”
Sunday marked the Owls’ 25th win on the year, their sixth win in the last seven games. Temple also won its 15th game at the Liacouras Center, the most games ever won by the Owls at home in a season. Dunphy was impressed with the offensive numbers, but felt that there could have been better efforts on the defensive end.
“We got off to a good start, but I thought we got a little lucky on the offensive end,” said Dunphy. “It was our game, and there were definitely signs of it being our day.”
The Owls finished with 90 total points, breaking their season-high of 86 from a Jan. 26 road victory over Central Florida. It was also the first time the Owls scored 90 points since the AAC Tournament last March, which surprisingly ended in a double-overtime loss to Central Florida.
Jaylen Bond had lackluster performances in the last two games due to a nagging ankle sprain he suffered last weekend against Southern Methodist, but he returned to the floor strong and healthy on Sunday, finishing with 15 rebounds, eight points, and three assists.
“[Jaylen] is so quick to the ball and he has great hands,” Dunphy said. “There have been games where he hasn’t played as well as the others, but he and Will are the reason why we are where we are, numbers wise.”
Temple outscored George Washington 34-24 in points in the paint, 14-7 in points off of turnovers, and 10-4 in fast break points. Sophomore guard Josh Brown was the leading bench scorer with 11 points against Bucknell this past Wednesday, and with Coleman stepping up Sunday against George Washington, Dunphy is beginning to see which of his returning players will step up and fill the shoes of Cummings and Morgan next season.
“Devin has an important role for us,” said Dunphy said. “When he’s in there and making plays and making shots, he’s going to get some well earned minutes. For next year, he will be a guy we count on greatly.”
Temple will square off against the winner of Monday night’s second round contest between Louisiana Tech, a team the Owls defeated in November 82-75, and Texas A&M, an SEC squad that nearly brought down Kentucky in overtime this past January. Dunphy remains focused on the slightest details, but insists that the minor details mean the most in determining wins and losses.
“Every bounce is important and every play is important,” Dunphy implied. “We weren’t great on defense but we were very good on offense, and it’s always nice seeing the ball fall into the basket.”
Seven days have now passed since the NCAA committee decided to not include Temple in the field of 68 teams elected to participate in the National Tournament, but with postseason basketball still on the horizon, Will Cummings remains hungry, and strives to write the final chapter of his collegiate career with an NIT championship under his belt.
“All we can do is control what we can control,” said Cummings. “We want to make it to MSG and make some noise there.”
WHAT’S NEXT: NIT Quarterfinals: TEMPLE vs. Winner of TEXAS A&M/Louisiana Tech, Wednesday, March 25. Time TBA.
TV: ESPN3, RADIO: WHIP Temple Radio, 1210AM WPHT