When Larry Brown discussed his team’s win against the Owls last Wednesday, he expressed a feeling of sympathy.
After watching Temple senior guard Will Cummings battle a strained muscle in his lower left leg, the Southern Methodist coach knew it wasn’t the same player he was used to seeing.
“I feel bad because I have seen Cummings before, and he was about 50 percent,” Brown said after the game. “He is one of the better players in our league and I think that impacted the game a little bit for sure.”
Cummings battled through injury for 27 minutes in the contest, managing one point and five assists, and missed the entirety of the Owls’ 84-53 loss to Cincinnati last Saturday night.
Missing a fully-healthy Cummings since he sustained the injury against Tulsa on Jan. 10, the Owls have dropped two straight games against American Athletic Conference opponents Southern Methodist and Cincinnati, teams that rank No. 2 and No. 5 in the conference, respectively.
“[Cummings] tried his best to give maximum effort,” Dunphy said after Wednesday’s game. “He’s probably not going to be as explosive as he normally is.”
The Owls (12-7, 3-3 The American) have since fallen to No. 6 out of 11 teams in the conference standings.
Filling in for Cummings since the Owls’ game against Tulsa, sophomore guard Josh Brown has taken on a larger role with a spike in minutes, averaging 20.5 minutes per game before Cummings’ injury. Brown now takes on the point guard role more often, averaging 29.3 mpg in the squad’s last three games, including his season-high 36 minutes against the Bearcats.
During the Cincinnati game, Brown recorded a season-high five assists to go along with four turnovers, a performance Owls’ coach Fran Dunphy claimed to be pleased with, considering the Bearcats’ defense.
“I thought he did a really good job against a lot of pressure,” Dunphy said. “He was hounded all game and only turned it [over] four times against all that pressure. … I thought he battled about as hard as he could.”
Moving forward, Dunphy said the squad will assess Cummings, who was listed as day-to-day last week after sustaining the injury, from a health standpoint moving forward. The Owls are in the middle of a four-day layoff from game action, and will take on South Florida Thursday night at the Liacouras Center.
“We’ll see if [Cummings] can play [against South Florida],” Dunphy said. “He obviously wasn’t comfortable enough to go tonight and hopefully USF won’t shoot it like Cincinnati shot it [last Saturday].”
Entering the Cincinnati game without Cummings’ 12.9 points per game and 3.9 assists per game, the Owls’ backcourt struggled, with junior guard Quenton DeCosey managing his second-lowest scoring total of the season with three points, more than 10 below his season average.
“[DeCosey] had opportunities to score, it just didn’t go in for him,” Dunphy said after the loss. “He’ll be back next game hopefully better than ever and ready to go.”
Senior guard Jesse Morgan, on the other hand, has recovered from his career-worst 1-for-17 shooting effort in the Tulsa loss with two consecutive 15-point games, including a 3-for-5 performance from long range against the Bearcats.
The Owls’ three-game losing streak has taken them from a Top 25 contender to a mid-ranked squad in The American. The emergence of junior forward Jaylen Bond, however, as the team’s leading rebounder continues to behoove the Owls, as they rank in the Top 100 in rebounds per game (37.1) through 19 games.
EJ Smith can be reached at email@example.com and 215.204. 9537