Hope seemed bleak for the Temple Owls just a little under a month ago.
The Owls were riding a three-game losing streak, capped off by an 84-53 thumping by Cincinnati, and it seemed as if their season was slipping away. The health of star point guard Will Cummings, who could only sit and watch the beat down given by the Bearcats, was on everybody’s mind.
Yet this Temple team is resilient. In the face of adversity, they’ve become closer as a unit. On Tuesday, the Owls (18-7, 9-3) capped off a six-game winning streak by getting their revenge against the Bearcats (17-7, 8-4). In defeating Cincinnati, 75-59, they snapped the Bearcats’ 27-game streak of holding their opponents to under 70 points, the nation’s longest active streak.
“The way they embarrassed us at their place was kind of an eye opener for everyone and set a fire under us,” Cummings said. “We wanted to come out here tonight and make a statement.”
Nobody played bigger than Cummings, who scored a game-high 21 points, along with five assists and four steals. Jaylen Bond added 16 points for the Owls, including an emphatic alley-oop towards the end of the game from Jesse Morgan, who notched 12 points. The slam was dynamic enough to rank among ESPN’s top 10 plays Wednesday.
Just as suddenly as Bond’s dunk, the Owls are back in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid. They received six votes for the AP Top 25 this week and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has them as an 11 seed. They’ll face American Conference leaders SMU (19-5, 10-2) and Tulsa (17-6, 10-1) on the road next week, with the chance to gain ground in the Conference standings.
“Every game is of critical importance to us,” Dunphy said. “We have East Carolina on Saturday and then we’ll focus on a very difficult road trip next week with SMU and Tulsa. All we can think about right now is the next step along the way and if we do a good job than [getting a tournament bid] will work itself out.”
In his past eight seasons coaching the Owls, Dunphy has only missed the the NCAA tournament field just twice – in his first year as coach in 2006-07 and last year’s dreadful 9-22 team. He’s on pace to match former coach John Chaney’s feat of going to seven NCAA tournament’s in his first nine seasons as coach, if he finds a way to get into the field this season.
The Owls will face off against East Carolina (11-13, 4-7) at 2 p.m. Saturday on CBS Sports Network.