Moments after learning his team would not be headed to the big dance, Fran Dunphy walked into a room full of media members and answered questions.
A visibly upset Dunphy fielded those questions for more than six minutes, and was followed by senior guard and team captain Will Cummings.
The situation was different in Colorado State’s media room, however. After an hour of waiting, the men’s basketball coach Larry Eustachy addressed his team’s similar spurn from the NCAA tournament.
The coach – who was the only member of the team available, spoke for less than two minutes, citing his desire to avoid saying something he would regret.
Both Temple and Colorado State were named top seeds in the National Invitation Tournament.
Indicative of the squad’s response, a despondent Colorado State bunch was upset in the first round of the NIT by eighth-seeded South Dakota State by 10 points at home.
Meanwhile, Dunphy’s refocused squad is headed to Madison Square Garden after reeling off three games while protecting its home court and top-seed status.
The distinct difference between the two No. 1 seeds – both seemingly capable of capturing postseason success, judging by regular seasons with more than 20 wins, is the mentality headed into what is unanimously considered a consolation tournament.
While many top-seeded NIT teams fall by the wayside due to the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament, the Owls – led by Cummings, immediately set their sights on not only making a deep run to Madison Square Garden, but to also prove the selection committee wrong.
“[We want to] win the NIT and make some noise,” Cummings said. “First I gotta get myself back up … I’m going to take this time and regroup, probably have a team meeting and just refocus the guys.”
Three wins later, Cummings and the chip on his shoulder are averaging 22 points on 55 percent shooting in the NIT, more than seven points higher than his season average and an increase of 14 percentage points from the floor.
The senior guard has angrily finished his career at the Liacouras Center and has led his team two wins away from the first banner into the rafters in more than a decade.
“I think I’m still mad,” Cummings said following the team’s 90-77 win against George Washington University in the second round. “I’m just trying to keep playing basketball.”
More than two weeks before Temple’s aggressive storm back to postseason success, an uncertain Cummings questioned the respect the sixth-winningest basketball program in the country currently receives.
“I guess our name doesn’t hold weight in the selection committee’s eyes,” the Jacksonville, Florida native said.
“[On Selection Sunday] when I went into that locker room I saw 14 empty faces and the one I was most concerned about was Will Cummings,” Dunphy added during practice last Friday. “He’s put the most time in and had the most success, as a coach you’re saying to yourself, ‘He deserves to go.’”
Ever since learning the team’s fate, the senior guard’s mission has been to regain that respect, and he said the job is not finished.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Cummings said last Sunday before leaving for New York. “All we’ve done is win three games to get to Madison Square Garden. So obviously we’ve got two more games to go. … You can’t validate anything because you still can’t make it, the only way you can think about it is by winning the NIT.”
Whether he is aware of it or not, Cummings’ legacy in a Temple uniform hangs in the balance of the next two games. With two wins, he could end his career on Broad Street known for resurrecting a nine-win bunch back into a historic Temple squad with a spot in the rafters.
“I’m not really worried about legacy,” Cummings said. “That’s for everybody else to decide on how they see me or how I spend my college career. I’m not worried about that, I’m worried about Tuesday.”
EJ Smith can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204. 9537 on Twitter @ejsmitty17.
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