A day after missing the NCAA Tournament by a hair, Will Cummings didn’t think about it – not only to refocus on Bucknell, but to ensure Josh Brown wouldn’t put up big numbers against him in practice.
“If I don’t come out hard in practice, [Josh] is going to put buckets on me,” Cummings said after his team’s 73-67 win against eighth-seeded Bucknell. “I just really wanted to refocus. … I can’t be thinking about the NCAA Tournament still and expect [my teammates] to be thinking about Bucknell.”
Amid national attention for the Owls’ tournament exclusion, Dunphy said the squad’s practice sessions didn’t change much.
“They were pretty spirited [in practice],” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “We talked about [the NCAA tournament] enough, I think there are a lot of teams out there that are very envious of us still getting a chance to play.”
“I thought our guys played really hard,” Dunphy added. “I thought it was a hard fought first round NIT game and we were very proud to be in it.”
Cummings netted a season-high 30 points, one point shy of his career high against Central Florida last season on Jan. 4. The Jacksonville, Florida native was the lone Owl in double figures for the first 36 minutes of the contest.
“Will was outstanding,” Dunphy said. “It was an unbelievable performance, really. He made a statement. … He shot the ball really well from the perimeter. He was ready to go, I’m very happy for him.”
Cummings led the Owls with 13 points in the first half, and also chipped in three rebounds and an assist through the game’s first 15 minutes.
“Knowing that my days are numbered with my teammates in practice and in games, any given game I can be done,” Cummings said of the motivation headed into the game.
Did the Owls prove they deserved a tournament bid Wednesday night?
“Not yet, we’re still playing basketball,” Cummings said. “When we get to Madison Square Garden … we’ll decide that we proved a point.”
Out of the gate, the Owls fell into a 6-0 hole to the Bison, and following a Dunphy timeout, recovered by reeling off a 14-0 run of their own.
Junior forward Jaylen Bond saw limited minutes due to a lingering leg injury in addition to foul trouble. The minutes lost for the 6-foot-8 forward, who averaged a team-high eight rebounds per game headed into the game, led to the Owls being outrebounded by the Bison, 51-41, led by a 10-rebound effort by Bucknell freshman center Nana Foulland.
Bucknell guard Chris Hass led Bucknell scorers, finishing with 15 points on 43 percent shooting, including a 2-for-7 performance from beyond the arc.
Junior guard Quenton DeCosey pitched in 13 points, and sophomore guard Josh Brown added 11 to go along with 3 rebounds and two assists.
Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen noticed the defensive effort from the Owls, and didn’t sense any reservations about the tournament.
“Early on they got some transition baskets,” Paulsen said. “To come in here as an eight seed trying to beat a one seed you have to hit some of [big] shots. … We went toe-to-toe with a bigger, stronger and more athletic team.”
“I thought [they got] snubbed, too,” Paulsen added. “This is an elite defensive team, just watching them and their body of work. I thought they should have been included. Of course I’m not in the committee, I’d put us in if I was in the committee.”
EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ejsmitty17.