The NIT and its relevance are all about vantage points.
When teams sit in front of a campus television set on Selection Sunday with their hearts and minds racing as an NCAA committee hands out the 68 invitations to the bigger and better basketball tournament, the NIT is the last place in the world they want to be. You don't walk around your practice gym, as Temple coach Fran Dunphy did that night, waiting for your phone to buzz with this message: "Congratulations, you are a top seed in college basketball's second-best postseason tournament."
Fast-forward 10 days and the NIT no longer is a bad place to be if you are Dunphy or the Temple players.
Unlike the four teams forced to play off against one another as No. 11 seeds, which is what Temple was likely going to be asked to do if it had been invited to the NCAA tournament, the Owls still had something to play for when they showed up Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center.
The crowd of 3,906 was sparse but intense - nothing new on North Broad Street - and Temple's motivation was high. The Owls had another chance to show the NCAA selection committee that it should make an immediate appointment to see an optometrist. Those were the guys who said Temple did not pass the eye test on Selection Sunday.
As much as it hurt, the only recourse for Temple's talented senior point guard Will Cummings and his teammates was to make a run so convincing in the NIT that they could forever claim that the NCAA was blind to its talent and drive.
There is still work to be done in that regard, but after Wednesday night's 77-59 rout of Louisiana Tech, there is also more time to do it. Temple is going to play in the other final four and Cummings got to celebrate a second senior night of sorts by entertaining the crowd at the Liacouras Center with one last superb performance.
"I think I made the statement [on Selection Sunday] that we're going to win the NIT and that is kind of where I have been focused," Cummings said. "I haven't went into any game thinking it was going to be my last. I've just stayed confident. The vision is where we are right now . . . and we're just doing every little thing we can to keep it going right now."
In his final home game, Cummings delivered 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting while also dishing six assists and compiling three steals. His brilliant Temple career was extended for at least one more game, when Temple plays an NIT semifinal against Miami Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Jesse Morgan, Temple's only other senior starter, also made sure the season would continue into next week by pumping in 17 points, including a couple of crucial three-point baskets that pushed a nine-point lead to 13 early in the second half. After that, Louisiana Tech never seriously threatened the Owls.
Morgan, a transfer from UMass, was another reason the Owls should have passed the NCAA's now infamous eye test. The Owls were 6-4 before the shooting guard from Olney became eligible and they are 20-6 since then.
"I think the guys in our locker room wanted to make a point," Cummings said. "We're still kind of bitter about it. Our job is to just keep playing good basketball and keep winning games. We'll let everybody else make comments."
The Temple seniors were not the only players having a good time in the team's final home game of the season. Junior guard Quenton DeCosey served as the trigger man, scoring Temple's first five points and finishing with a game-high 21 points while shooting 63.6 percent from the field. He also pulled down 11 rebounds.
Junior Devontae Watson did not miss a shot and finished with nine points and four rebounds.
A long NIT run has also offered some real benefit for Dunphy and his coaching staff. They are getting to spend extra time with the players who will be on the court next season. At one point late in the first half, the Owls had two juniors (DeCosey and Devin Coleman), two sophomores (Josh Brown and Daniel Dingle), and a freshman (Obi Enechionyia) on the floor for a substantial amount of time.
That same five, along with junior forwards Jaylen Bond and Watson, are going to have to learn to play without the steadying influence of Cummings on the floor next season and this tournament is providing them with in-game lessons. The five Owls who remained on the court for that long stretch held their own, but it was clear during that stretch that Cummings is the engine that makes Temple run.
And now the terrific senior guard and the Owls have at least one more run left in their season. They also will head to New York with a chance to bring an NIT championship banner home with them. You don't get those for early exits from the NCAA tournament, but that's a vantage point the Owls are only seeing now.