Will Cummings, Temple make statement in NIT win over Bucknell


Will Cummings, Temple make statement in NIT win over Bucknell


Will Cummings isn’t ready to end his Temple basketball career — not yet.

“It’s a lot of motivation knowing my days are numbered with my teammates in practice and in games,” Cummings said. “Any given game, I could be done. I’m just trying to go out here and compete. Give everything I got and try to come out with wins and keep playing.”

With that mentality — knowing Wednesday night very well could have been his last in cherry and white — the senior point guard sent a message: Bring on George Washington.

Cummings scored a season-high 30 points, one shy of his career high and the most by any Owl this season, to lead the No. 1-seed Owls past the No. 8-seed Bucknell Bison, 73-67, in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at the Liacouras Center (see Instant Replay).

“He made a statement that he’s a really good basketball player tonight and that’s all we’re concerned about,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said.

Something else also fueled Cummings’ performance Wednesday. Four days ago, the Owls learned they were the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament. That wasn’t easy to take.

“We don’t really want to go out on a sour note,” he said. “It would be bad if we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament and come out here and lose. That’s not really how we want to go out. That’s not how I really want to go out as a senior. I really wanted to win today, win the tournament.”

For a team expected to make the field of 68, the NIT might seem like a consolation prize. It could have been easy for Temple to suffer from an emotional hangover. But as Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen said after the loss, the Owls didn’t pack it in. They played hard.

How long did it take Cummings to get over the disappointment of missing the Big Dance?

“Probably Monday,” he said. “I had to refocus just to make sure these guys are ready, too. I can’t be thinking about the NCAA Tournament still and expect them to be thinking about Bucknell.”

About Bucknell, a team that has now lost its last 11 games against Temple — it was the 35th meeting between the two schools. The Bison scored the game’s first five points, forcing Dunphy to call a timeout, as the coach said, to “implore their efforts a little bit more.”

“Sometimes you can get punched right in the forehead,” he said, “and not realize this is a really good basketball team we’re playing.”

The timeout worked, as Temple came out of it going on a 14-0 run that began with Cummings putting back a missed Quenton DeCosey three-pointer and drawing a foul. But the Bison battled with the Owls all first half, hitting some timely threes and going into the intermission tied, 35-35.

“They’re a resilient team, they just kept fighting,” Cummings said. “They had a look in their eye like they wanted to win. We just had to lock in. We couldn’t put them away like we wanted to, so we just tried to focus and do everything down the stretch to come out with a win.”

In the second half, Bucknell and Temple traded leads. After the lead changed five times in the first half, it changed a few more times in the second. All said and done, there were 11 total.

With 11:10 left in the second half, the Owls were trailing, 52-51, when Cummings took over the game. He scored nine of the Owls’ next 11 points, and when the stretch ended, Temple had a seven-point lead, 62-55. While Bucknell got within two late, Temple never relinquished the lead.

“Will was outstanding,” Dunphy said. “He shot the ball really well from the perimeter. He was ready to go. I felt bad for him having those two fouls in the first half so quickly, but when we put him back in he let us know he was ready to go and he wasn’t going to get the third.

“It was an unbelievable performance. He was all over the place. There was one, maybe two times he tried to do a little bit too much but very happy for him. He made a great statement tonight.”

Cummings’ 30 points fell one point shy of his career-high 31, but he proved again he’s the most important player on Dunphy’s roster. Next year, it’ll be a challenge to replace him. Josh Brown (11 points, 23 minutes) will take over as the primary ballhandler. It’ll be a different offense.

But this season isn’t over yet, even if everyone else’s eyes will be on the NCAA Tournament. Cummings still has at least one more game to play — Sunday, 11 a.m. against No. 5 George Washington at the Liacouras Center — and one more point to make, though that won’t come just yet.

“Not yet,” Cummings said. “We’re still playing basketball. When we get to Madison Square Garden, then we’ll decide if we proved a point.”

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

AP Images

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

USA Today Images

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.