Miami held Will Cummings in check for much of its National Invitation Tournament semifinal defeat against Temple’s men’s basketball team last Tuesday.
His 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting from the floor may not have been Cummings’ ideal way to cap a Temple career in which he paced the Owls with 14.8 points per game as a senior point guard, and led them all along.
Cummings, of course, was forced to deliver his final postgame comments to the media not after an NIT championship victory, but after defeat in the hosting venue of the tournament’s Final Four.
“It’s hard to put that in a couple sentences,” Cummings said of his career. “I would say it’s been a great career. I had a lot of different teammates, a lot of guys I had fun with. Overall, it’s been a great experience. … It’s been a great ride.”
After he and his teammates were denied a spot among the NCAA tournament field when selections were announced on March 15, the Owls’ leader from the point position never did hit his goal of lifting the NIT trophy in front of a traveling band of Temple support at Madison Square Garden.
Instead, he witnessed Obi Enechionyia’s breakout game in basketball’s most storied building.
The freshman forward paced the floor with game-highs of 17 points and five blocks, and also manned the glass with a team-high eight rebounds. All numbers were career highs for the Springfield, Virginia native, and they provided a glimpse of what Enechionyia could bring to the Owls in his sophomore season.
“Once I got going, whenever I start getting going, the confidence goes up and everything gets a little easier,” Enechionyia said. “I was trying to keep our team in the game, just doing what I could. Somebody had to step up and I tried to make that me.”
Enechionyia stepped up when his team’s typical offensive options struggled to make an impact.
Senior guard Jesse Morgan, Temple’s second-most prolific scorer behind Cummings and the team’s leader from 3-point range, never got it going in his final collegiate game.
Junior guard Quenton DeCosey, who netted a season-high 21 points in the Owls’ NIT quarterfinal defeat of Louisiana Tech on March 25 at the Liacouras Center, was held to 4-of-10 shooting and nine points.
Enechionyia, a potential impact player for next year’s squad, contributed during Temple’s three NIT wins – and last Tuesday night was his night.
Before DeCosey’s night against Louisiana Tech, junior guard and Clemson transfer Devin Coleman chipped in a season-high 13 points in Temple’s 90-77 second-round defeat of George Washington. As Cummings lit up his home arena in Temple’s first two NIT games, including a 30-point performance in a 73-67 first-round edging of Bucknell, his potential replacement at the point, sophomore guard Josh Brown, added 11 points in his first two career NIT contests.
As Temple’s backcourt figures to include DeCosey, Coleman and Brown, alongside potential contributions from redshirt-sophomore Dan Dingle and 2015 recruits Levan “Shawn” Alston and Trey Lowe, coach Fran Dunphy said DeCosey will have to up his game even beyond the 13 points per game he averaged through his final nine games of the season. Someone will need to fill Cummings’ spot as the team’s leader, and the naturally soft-spoken DeCosey is Dunphy’s preliminary choice.
“He’s had a good three-year career, and now it’s time for him to step up and become a real leader for us next year. That’ll be his role,” Dunphy said of the Union, New Jersey native. “He’s got the requisite talent to really do some good things as a college senior.”
In a frontcourt that could feature juniors Jaylen Bond, Devontae Watson and incoming freshman Ernest Aflakpui, whose senior season at Archbishop Carroll High School in Delaware County was cut short by a meniscus tear in his right knee, Enechionyia could see an increase in his minutes next season after averaging 5.3 points in 18.7 minutes per game in 2014-15.
For Temple’s four-star 2014 recruit, however, the ending to his freshman season had little to do with his individual performance.
“It’s something to build off of, having this bad taste from this game, coming back and trying to be more successful next year than we were this year,” Enechionyia said of the loss to Miami. “We had a good season. I’m proud of the seniors, but you always want to do more. I want to do more next season.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.