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Temple defeats Louisiana Tech to reach NIT semifinals

Seniors Will Cummings, Jesse Morgan are steady contributors as Owls head to New York for a matchup with Miami.

Temple players celebrate their win in the NIT quarterfinals. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Temple players celebrate their win in the NIT quarterfinals. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)Read moreCHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

WILL CUMMINGS took the court at the Liacouras Center last night for the final time. Fifty-six games; 586 points. Innumerable covers of Reel Big Fish's "Sell Out" from the Temple band.

It's all over for Cummings on North Broad Street after Temple's 77-59 win over Louisiana Tech in the NIT, propelling the Owls to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals on Tuesday against Miami.

Cummings went out the same way he spent those previous 55 career home games: dropping buckets and dimes, while leaving Temple's opponent wondering at all times where he was on the court. The Jacksonville, Fla., native knocked down a deep three with a quick flick of the wrist within the game's first 3 minutes, quickly putting the Owls up, 8-2, and ultimately staving off the end of his collegiate career for at least another few days.

"Now it's bittersweet," Cummings said about his last game in the arena ending with a win. "It's a great feeling. I wish it was a bigger crowd to go out with [attendance was listed at 3,906], but it's a feeling to just get a win in your last game here and just do it with these guys I hang out with every day.

"We have our wars and stuff, but it's a great feeling just to have a great group of guys to go out with."

In a rematch against the Bulldogs - Temple won the first game, 82-75, on Nov. 17, when Cummings had 20 points and nine boards - the Owls (26-10) leaned heavily on their senior guards, as Cummings (15 points) wasn't the only Owl playing his final game in the building. Jesse Morgan, a Philly-born graduate of Olney High School, knocked down a barrage of second-half triples on his way to 17 points.

Morgan spent 3 years at Massachusetts before transferring to Temple. After Sunday's 20-point performance in a win over George Washington and last night's shooting outburst, Morgan has left a mark on the program with this tourney, despite his short stint as an Owl.

"I don't think Jesse started off great," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "But he found a way to get himself to the line a couple of times. He made a couple of threes in that second half that really got us some space between us and them."

As Morgan approached heat-check time, making two straight three-pointers early in the second half, Cummings deferred to his fellow senior and became the much-needed ballhandler and distributor to break the fullcourt press of the Bulldogs (27-9). The two guards helped the Owls cruise to a 36-26 second-half advantage in the victory.

"The fact that you only turn it five times against a team that's really looking to turn you over and get out and run, I thought they had some decent looks, but I thought we took care of the ball well on the offensive end, and we had opportunities," Dunphy said.

In New York, the Owls will face a Hurricanes team that is 24-12. A win over Miami would give the Owls a date in the final next Thursday against Stanford or Old Dominion.

"Listen, we're proud as hell to be in the NIT," Dunphy said, as the Owls still answered questions about being left out of the NCAA Tournament. "We're still playing college basketball and we're thrilled by it. Madison Square Garden is going to be great.

"We're going to embrace it and we're going to soak it all in and hopefully we're going to play our best game against Miami. We're going to need to do so."