When senior point guard Will Cummings returned to the lineup against South Florida five games ago despite not being 100 percent recovered from a muscle strain in his leg, he did so because it was a “must-win” game.
A promising season was teetering on the brink after three straight losses dropped the Owls to 12-7.
After last Saturday’s win at Tulane gave Temple three straight wins heading into February, coach Fran Dunphy indicated his Owls hadn’t yet put themselves in position to talk about playing meaningful games in March.
But after Saturday’s come-from-behind 61-60 win at Memphis, Temple is certainly part of the NCAA discussion now.
Josh Brown banked in a jumper off a slick pass from Will Cummings, capping a wild final 10 seconds in which Kedren Johnson put the Tigers ahead with a layup.
The Owls ran the ball up court without calling a timeout and Cummings whipped a pass cross-court to an open Brown, who banked in the game-winner with a few ticks on the clock.
The win improved Temple to 17-7 overall and 8-3 in the American Athletic Conference, good enough for fourth place in the league. Memphis is 14-9, 6-4.
Before the big win, the Owls had crept back into the top 50 in RPI at 43, closing in on a top-40 spot which often leads to hearing one’s name called on Selection Sunday.
The victory will help but as Dunphy will attest the Owls have to keep winning, including Tuesday’s game against Cincinnati where they will have a chance to avenge a blowout loss in Ohio last month.
The Bearcats, also making a postseason push, have a nearly identical record at 17-6, 8-3.
Temple still has chances against the top two teams in the conference this month, though both on the road at Tulsa and SMU. The Owls are still feeling the effects of losing a pair of double-digit, second-half leads against both teams at the Liacouras Center.
“We need to keep winning, we need to win every game, there’s no other thought in our mind,” said Dunphy. “We need to play really good basketball from here on in. We had those two games at home we had a pretty good opportunity to win and we chose not to. That would have helped us a little bit, but there’s nothing we can do about that now.”
The Owls also have a regular-season finale at the Liacouras Center against defending national champion UConn, which has been resurgent.
Saturday’s win went a long way towards putting the Owls on the right side of the bubble, but more than two losses the rest of the way could easily knock them right back off.
Back in the bracket?
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