WILL CUMMINGS wasn't letting what could have been his final game as a Temple Owl end in disappointment last night. The senior guard threw North Broad Street on his back in the process, putting up a herculean 30-point, seven-rebound effort in a 73-67 win over Bucknell in the opening round of the NIT.
The 30 points were a season high for the Owls and just one point shy of a career best for Cummings. Josh Brown, who dropped 11 points off the bench, and fellow guard Quenton Decosey (13 points) joined Cummings in double-figures.
"Will was outstanding," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "He shot the ball really well from the perimeter. He was ready to go. It was an unbelievable performance, really. He was all over the place. I'm just very happy for him. He made a great statement tonight."
The Owls waited to hear their names last weekend during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. As dubious at-large selections Boise State, UCLA and Indiana crept into the tourney, Temple realized that it wouldn't have a chance for one shining moment and would have to settle for being the top seed in the NIT.
"I had to refocus to make sure these guys were ready, too," Cummings said. "I can't be thinking about the NCAA Tourney still and expect them to be thinking about Bucknell. If we're not competing, Coach Dunphy is going to be on us."
There is still something to play for, whether it be one last time on the basketball court for seniors, experience for a better run in the American Athletic Conference next season for underclassmen or sheer pride for the Cherry and White.
"I thought they were ready," Dunphy said. "Sometimes I think you can get punched right in the forehead and not realize that this is a really good basketball team we're playing."
Cummings would live to play another day on the Liacouras Center court, as the Owls will next host George Washington on Sunday morning (11 o'clock, ESPN). Playing possibly the best ball of his collegiate career, Cummings shot 9-for-14 on an array of step-back threes, hard off-ball cuts to the basket and reckless dribble-drive layups at the rim. He also was perfect at the foul line, 9-for-9.
Bucknell, an 8-seed, ended up in the NIT after losing in the Patriot League Tournament to eventual champ, and tonight's Villanova opponent, Lafayette. Late field goals for the Bison with under 2 minutes remaining by Ryan Frazier and Chris Hass narrowed Temple's lead to 64-62, but the Owls closed it out by shooting 6-for-7 at the line. The Owls were cool and collected enough to ice the victory on a chilly North Philly night.
The Owls now turn their attention to ex-Atlantic-10 foe George Washington.
"We've got to refocus and make sure we're ready for GW," Cummings said. "They're a great basketball team. They're looking to come out here and get a win and advance, so we've got to come out and do the same.
"We really don't want to go out on a sour note. It's not how I want to go out."