Temple’s chances for a seven-game winning streak took a hit when its senior leader hit the floor in a world of pain Saturday.
Will Cummings has started each of the men’s basketball team’s 17 games at the point guard position this season, and was well on his way toward helping the Owls to their 13th victory and a 4-0 American Athletic Conference record.
Though Cummings’ status was said to be day-to-day after landing awkwardly on his left ankle with his team holding an 10-point advantage against Tulsa early in the second half, he was confined to the sideline for the remainder of the contest.
Eight minutes, 53 seconds of play later, the Owls lost the lead en route to their first defeat since dropping a Big 5 matchup to then-No. 7 Villanova on Dec. 14.
“[Losing Cummings] was big,” junior forward Jaylen Bond said. “He’s a great leader. He helps us out a lot when things aren’t going our way. He settles us down. It was tough missing him in the second half.”
After Cummings departed with 16:15 remaining in Temple’s 63-56 loss, his teammates soon dealt with a 19-1 Tulsa run that ultimately buried them. For a defensive-minded group that has improved in that department significantly this season, the Owls allowed a 56 percent (14-of-25) shooting clip from the Golden Hurricane in the latter half.
After a sluggish, low-scoring first half that spotted the Owls a six-point lead, Tulsa had been averaging an unsightly 16 percent (4-of-25) from the field.
“We struggled [in the second half],” junior guard Quenton DeCosey said. “[Not] getting to loose balls, getting to offensive rebounds on foul shots. [It was] just a loss of focus.”
For the most part, Temple has improved on the defensive end. The Owls have held opponents to 38 percent from the floor, a far cry from last season’s clip of 47 percent, which ranked ninth-worst in Division I.
The addition of Bond, a University of Texas transfer, has helped bolster the team’s rebounding efforts. As of Monday, the Owls’ 38.8 rebounds per game leads The American and ranked 39th in Division I. Bond has headed the effort with his conference-leading 8.6 boards per game, which also ties him for 45th in Division I.
Saturday’s second half, though, followed up a stretch in which the Owls won a defensive contest against Tulane University last Wednesday, but allowed a 45.5 percent shooting average to Central Florida in an 84-78 win on Jan. 4.
“I think it’s just a loss of focus,” DeCosey said. “We were on a winning streak. Maybe that got to us a little bit.”
Coach Fran Dunphy downplayed the defensive hiccup, saying the team’s offensive performance, which yielded a 31 percent shooting average Saturday, is the Owls’ more pressing concern.
“I think we’re going to hang most of our issues on [the team’s] offensive play,” Dunphy said. “I’ll look and see how we could have moved the ball a little bit better, [and] if we had gotten even more open looks. I thought we got our share, but we’ll see.”
Since hitting 58 percent of its shots from the floor in a 77-52 win against then-No. 10 Kansas on Dec 22, Temple is shooting 35 percent from the floor in its last five games. Saturday’s loss joined wins against Delaware State (25-of-77) and Connecticut (18-of-57) during the winter break that featured shooting struggles.
The Owls are shooting 37 percent, which ranks 333rd in Division I.
Despite the offensive inconsistencies, the Owls (12-5, 3-1 The American) are in a three-way tie for the No. 2 spot in the conference, a stark contrast from the team’s second-to-last conference finish as a 9-22 team a year ago.
An intriguing test, though, awaits the team on Wednesday when Southern Methodist (12-4, 3-1 The American), which ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at the start of the season, will visit the Liacouras Center.
“It’s going to be a big game,” DeCosey said. “We can’t dwell on [Tulsa]. We have to start focusing on the next game.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23