It was46 years ago whenTemple won its last National Invitational Tournament with an 89-76 win over Bob Cousy’s Boston College team at Madison Square Garden.
Next week, Temple (26-10) will have the chance to add another NIT banner next to that team’s if they can pick up two wins on the very same court in which it happened all those years ago.
“It’s the stage of all stages,” said Temple senior Will Cummings. “All the big names have played there and now it’s an opportunity for us. … Everybody that plays basketball should get a chance to play at Madison Square Garden.”
After a convincing 77-59 win over Louisiana Tech (27-9) on Wednesday night, Temple is set to face the Miami Hurricanes (24-12) in the semifinals next Tuesday, March 31, in New York.
It would be the Owls’ third NIT title in team history were they to run the table in the next two games. They won the very first NIT championship back in 1938 – the year it was founded. Temple last reached the tournament field in 2006.
“We’re proud as hell to be in the NIT,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “We’re still playing college basketball and we’re thrilled by it. Madison Square Garden is going to be great and we’re going to embrace it, soak it all in and hopefully play our best game against Miami.”
Senior John Baum led the Owls to the NIT title back in 1969 with 30 points and 10 rebounds in the final game. He was controversially denied the tournament MVP award in favor of Boston College’s Terry Driscoll, an All-American forward who had allegedly been voted in as the recipient 10 minutes prior to the finish of the final game.
“I was a college student in those days and I was rooting for Temple to win the NIT and they did,” Dunphy said. “They were happy that they won, but they were so disappointed that John Baum wasn’t MVP. That’s the type of impact that John had on that team.”
Cummings has been the senior catalyst for this Temple team all season long in the way Baum was before him. He’s averaging 22 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 55 percent shooting in the team’s three tournament games. He won’t rest until the tournament is finished with the Owls on top. He nearly forgot that Wednesday night was his final game he’ll play at the Liacouras Center.
“I’m not satisfied at all [about advancing],” Cummings said. “I still have two games of basketball left in my career. … I forgot about [playing my last game on North Broad] until just now. It’s bittersweet. I wish it was a bigger crowd to go out with but it’s a great feeling just to get a win and to go out with such a great group of guys around me.”
Temple’s tip against Miami (Fl.) is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The game will air on ESPN.
Star in attendance:
Fresh off her stint on ESPN with Temple alum Kevin Negandhi, little league pitching sensation Mo’ne Davis was seen in the crowd cheering on the Owls Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center. Davis recently discussed on SportsCenter a request she had made to Bloomsburg University to reinstate student Joey Casselberry, who was kicked off of the university’s baseball team for posting a profane tweet about the little league star on his Twitter account. The university said it would “stand firm” with its decision but praised Davis for her “level of maturity and empathy.”
Fran Dunphy on their opportunity to win NIT:
“I’m a big soaker inner kind of guy. When you’ve been around a few years you appreciate everything that’s out there. How the kids play, how they compete, the arenas and I look at all the banners and read them all. I’m sure I’ll see Billy Joel up there and his 100 sellouts or whatever it is when we get in there.”
Will Cummings on the NIT:
“We want to make a point (about being snubbed). We’re still a little bitter about it, but our job is to keep playing good basketball and to keep winning games. We’ll let everybody else make those comments or articles about that stuff.”