As Will Cummings went about his warm-up routine, his head and body moved in sync to the playing of recording artist Eminem’s “Rap God,” as the 2013 hit reverberated throughout the Liacouras Center ahead of Temple’s American Athletic Conference meeting with South Florida.
Minutes later, the senior guard was jogging out to midcourt amid his introduction as a Temple starter for the first time since suffering a muscle strain in his left leg on Jan. 10. He hadn’t played in Temple’s previous contest – a 29-point defeat to Cincinnati last Saturday – and hadn’t seen action since a loss to Southern Methodist on Jan. 14.
His 12-point contribution and defensive presence, coach Fran Dunphy said, helped the Owls snap a three-game losing streak with a 73-48 victory Thursday night.
“He’s our leader,” Dunphy said. “He’s somebody you trust greatly in everything that he does. It’s nice to have him out there in seemingly good health … We need his leadership and he’s still very good on the defensive end. He may not be as explosive on offense as he is when he’s 100 percent healthy, but we really need him on the defensive end and we certainly need his leadership.”
The Jacksonville, Florida native drew a foul while finishing a drive into the lane with a layup for his first points of the game five minutes into the contest. While he said he’s still not 100 percent, his night played out without further injury, and renewed confidence.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Cummings said of limitations from the injury. “Practicing a couple times in the past week and just not feeling right, that’s the frustrating thing, just not being able to do things you were doing before the injury. It just takes time. Tonight was a big confidence booster, just knowing I was able to some things out there that I was able to do before the injury.”
After failing to hit a field goal in his 27 minutes of action against SMU, Cummings said the team’s flight to Cincinnati contributed to his absence in that game, as the injury swelled up the following morning after the trip.
As Cummings will have a few days rest before the team’s next trip through the air, ahead of a conference matchup with Central Florida on Wednesday, he said his next trip shouldn’t be an issue.
“I’m not worried about that,” Cummings said. “We’ll do the necessary precautions to make sure that it won’t happen again, so I’ll be playing. If I have to, I’ll drive.”
After spotting the Bulls an early 10-0 run, and trailing 16-14 with 7 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first half, the Owls outscored South Florida 23-6 in the rest of the period. After back-and-forth play made up the first few minutes of the latter half, the Owls buckled down defensively and continued to expand upon a commanding lead the rest of the way.
Senior guard Jesse Morgan, coming off back-to-back 15-point games, poured in a season-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range to lead all scorers. Junior guard Quenton DeCosey chipped in 14 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Owls in a game he dubbed for his team as a “must-win.”
“We were coming off three straight losses, so we knew we had to get this win at home,” DeCosey said. “We already gave up two games at home [against Tulsa and SMU], so we had to get a win and take home court.”
Temple held South Florida to a 17-for-56 shooting performance for the game, while the Owls averaged 41 percent from the floor, hitting 27 of their 66 attempts.
Bulls guard Corey Allen Jr. led South Florida with his 12 points, while center Ruben Guerrero chipped in 10 points and six boards in a losing effort.
Junior forward Jaylen Bond chipped in seven points and seven rebounds … Redshirt-sophomore Daniel Dingle logged 16 minutes and netted seven points, his best in both categories since he played 16 minutes and posted five points against the University of Delaware on Dec. 18, 2014 … An announced crowd of 5,352 attended the contest … Temple’s victory evened the all-time matchup record between the two teams at two games apiece. South Florida won the first meeting, 58-44, three seasons ago in a second-round NCAA-tournament contest on March 6, 2012.
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.