The Temple Owls won the first ever NIT held in 1938.
And since then, all they’ve done is collect the sixth most wins in NCAA history out of 477 school playing Division I basketball.
But aside fromElite Eight runs in 1999 and 2001, the Owls have not hoisted any national banners in the Liacouras Center (aside from almost three dozen combined A-10 regular season and tournament titles).
That could change this week, as the Owls take on Miami in the NIT’s Final Four at Madison Square Garden Tuesday at 7 (on ESPN).
“It’s the stage of all stages,” Temple senior Will Cummings, an all Big-5 team member this season said. “Madison Square Garden, everybody’s played there. I know I played there when we beat Syracuse, and everyone who plays basketball should get a chance to play in Madison Square Garden.”
The Owls are 26-10 after going 9-22 just one season ago. They arewinners of 14 of their last 17 contests and making their fifth trip to NIT semifinals, and first since finishing third in the 2002 NIT.
“I think their mindset is in a very good spot,” head coach FranDunphy said of his guys,”but they know how good a team Miami is.”
The Hurricanes(24-12), are making their first appearance in the semifinal round in 12 NIT tries.Jim Larranaga’ssquad is led by guardSheldon McClellan, who averages14.4 points per game.
Though after convincing wins in the last two rounds, the Owls are not scared of the No. 2-seeded Hurricanes from the ACC.
“I made the statement: We are going to win the NIT,” Cummings said.”This is how I envisioned it and we are doing every little thing we can to keep it going now.”
It is both a curse and a blessing that Temple is vying for a title in New York City. Just a few weeks ago on Selection Sunday, the committee left the Owls out despite their strong NCAA tournament resume. And in all likelihood, as a lower seed the Owls would have emptied their lockers by now. Every game since has been a statement game.
“We are still kind of bitter aboutit,” Cummings said referencing the snub.”Our job is to keep playing basketball and win games. We let everyone make those arguments.”
“I’m not satisfied at all,” the guard continued. “I still have two games of college basketball in my career.”