Will Cummings took his seat and stared skyward.
He had just been whistled for his second foul after 4 minutes, 36 seconds of play in his team’s Sunday visit to conference opponent Tulsa, a matchup of the second- and third-ranked teams in the American Athletic Conference.
After Cummings hit three of Temple’s first four baskets from the floor before receiving his second foul call, Owls coach Fran Dunphy was forced to sit his senior point guard for the next 10:08 of the first half.
He put Cummings on the floor again with just more than five minutes remaining in the half, and again he was soon whistled for a foul. Though the Jacksonville, Florida native didn’t pick up a foul call during his 15 minutes of play in the second half of Temple’s eventual 55-39 loss, the early foul trouble limited Temple’s senior leader to 23 minutes of action for the game.
“He’s our leader,” Dunphy said. “He’s our go-to guy and [his fouls] didn’t help us. I thought we hung in there pretty tough, [being] down four [at halftime]. And we didn’t play very well in that first half. All things considered, we felt very lucky.”
“His third foul, that was a killer,” Dunphy added.
As Cummings suffered a muscle strain in his left leg in Temple’s previous matchup with Tulsa at the Liacouras Center on Jan. 10, Sunday marked Cummings’ third game logging 27 minutes or less. He missed one other contest – a road matchup with conference foe Cincinnati on Jan. 17.
The Owls lost all four of them.
“It’s as much an intangible issue as it is a real issue,” Dunphy said of his team’s performance without Cummings on the floor. “It’s just, you don’t have him and the confidence these guys have with him. When he’s not there, that leadership is just not as evident. We have to get better with playing without him, but we weathered that storm [Sunday].”
Through his limited playing time Sunday, Cummings managed a team-high 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting and knocked down 5 of 7 attempts from the free-throw line in a game in which Temple (19-9, 10-5 The American) averaged 25 percent from the floor.
Take Cummings’ performance out of the equation, and his team’s average drops to 18 percent.
“Of course it’s tough,” Cummings said of sitting out for 17 minutes Sunday. “I’m a senior and I want to play every minute that I can. It’s tough to get out of the game. It’s tough to get two fouls early.”
“[The calls were] two fouls I really can’t control,” Cummings added. “Referees called what they thought … they called two fouls. It didn’t affect my strategy any; I still played basketball. It just slowed me down. I got out of the rhythm a little bit. But I just had to go out there and play basketball.”
After Sunday’s contest, the Owls’ 38 percent average from the floor this season ranks 336th out of 345 Division I teams, and dead last in The American.
While Tulsa handed Temple its second loss in three days Sunday, as the Owls fell to Southern Methodist in a nine-point defeat after blowing a double-digit lead against the Mustangs Thursday, Cummings led the way for the Owls in that game with his 14 points, seven assists and seven steals in 36 minutes. He was Temple’s lone double-digit scorer in the contest.
“There’s a lot of good players in our league, and we have a great point guard [in senior Nic Moore], but I haven’t seen a lot of guys play half like Cummings played,” SMU coach Larry Brown said after Thursday’s contest. “Last game we played against them, he wasn’t 100 percent [due to his leg injury]. … Cummings just dominated the game.”
After the loss Sunday, with an NCAA tournament berth on the line, the Owls have dropped back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month.
“[We] have to play harder, prepare better and play better for Houston [on Thursday],” Cummings said. “[We need to] work harder, make sure [we] come out stronger and close the season strong.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.