ONE-HUNDRED-twenty-eight days ago. That's when Temple pulled off its 82-75 win over Louisiana Tech in its second game of the season. It seems like a short amount of time, but so much has changed since then for the Owls, who prepare to face the Bulldogs again tonight at the Liacouras Center, with a trip to Madison Square Garden in the NIT's semifinals against Miami going to the victor.
"It's so long ago. We're different," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said at yesterday's shootaround, looking back at his team's previous matchup with Louisiana Tech. "We're different. They're different, but we'll study [that game's video] a little bit. There are some similarities you can draw from it. It's a little different level of importance."
The Owls were 2-0 after that victory, with a glimmer of hope for a mad March after 2013-14's 9-22 mark, but that wasn't meant to be. After the disappointment of Selection Sunday 2 weeks ago, when the Owls were denied entry into the NCAA Tournament, their goals shifted: Forget the Big Dance and worry about the NIT.
"Our goal is to win the NIT, and this is another process you have to do," said senior Will Cummings, who scored 20 points against the Bulldogs in November. "You have to go out and take care of business and make sure that we're clicking on all cylinders, because they're a great basketball team. We're making sure we're playing our best basketball in order to pull out a victory."
With Temple's focus on Louisiana Tech after eschewing any harsh feelings about the NCAA snub, the Owls (25-10) must draw on what brought them that earlier success, while also incorporating Cummings' evolving supporting cast into that plan of attack.
That is another thing that has changed for Temple - its role players. Cummings, the Owls' leading scorer (14.9 points per game) and a first-team selection in the American Athletic Conference, has been a constant for the Owls this season, but the rest of the roster has transformed over the last few months.
Jaylen Bond (eight points, 15 rebounds in a 90-77, second-round win over George Washington on Sunday), Jesse Morgan (20 points) and Devin Coleman (13 points, all in the second half) came together around Cummings' 21-point effort in a great all-around win. None of those three players even saw the floor in Temple's first game against the Bulldogs.
"They're a real athletic team that likes to get out in transition. They use the ball screens well," Bond, a 6-8 transfer from Texas, said of Louisiana Tech (27-8). "They look to throw lobs, so we just have to be solid on defense, and we'll be fine. They're a different team. Everybody gets better throughout the year, us included, but we know they have a good group of guys."
Cummings remembers that November game firsthand and can use his experience to guide his teammates who missed out on that game.
"We can still have an idea of what they like to do and how we need to defend them going into the game," Cummings said.
One thing that has not changed for the Owls is Dunphy. He remains confident that, regardless of any tournament appearances or personnel changes, his team will be prepared.
"I think they're ready," he said. "but once that ball is in the air . . . that's when you really know."