HARTFORD, Conn. – Coach Fran Dunphy won his 500th game on Friday, with an assist from Will Cummings.
The senior point guard was nothing short of spectacular as the Owls likely clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament with an 80-75 victory over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals at the XL Center.
Cummings scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, including 10 straight free throws – six in the last two minutes – as the Owls held off the hard-charging Tigers. They’ll face SMU in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
And while the free throws were crucial, Cummings’ biggest play was an assist to Obi Enechionyia after a loose ball scramble with the score tied in the last minute of play.
After Memphis forward Trahson Burrell scored to tie the game at 71-71 with 48 seconds to go, Cummings pushed the ball hard into the lane and zipped a pass to Enechionyia. But the freshman dropped the ball. Cummings dove to the floor, retrieved the ball, and with the Tigers converging on him, flipped it back to Enechionyia, who dropped in a four-foot jumper and was fouled.
Enechionyia hit the ensuing free throw – Temple hit 16 straight free throws to close the game – and the Owls survived after Memphis forward Calvin Godfrey missed a putback attempt that would have tied the game with 23 seconds left.
Fittingly, it was Cummings who secured the victory with four free throws in the last 20 seconds.
It was a wild finish to a tense, hard-fought game.
Trailing 32-31 at halftime, the Owls were challenged further because Jaylen Bond left the game late in the first half with an ankle sprain. He did not return, and is questionable at best to play in the semifinals.
Enechionyia, Devontae Watson, and Daniel Dingle saw extended action in the second half, and each of them contributed nicely. Watson gave the team a real boost with eight points in the first nine minutes.
For a 10-minute stretch, the teams were never separated by more than three points. Memphis got baskets from five different players, while the only two players to score for the Owls were Watson and Quenton DeCosey.
Trailing 48-45 with 11 minutes to go, Dunphy’s squad finally made a big run. Cummings hit a three-pointer, Enechionyia hit a baseline jumper, then Jesse Morgan hit a three and stole a pass on the next possession, eventually leading to a Josh Brown three.
The 13-4 run gave the Owls a 58-52 lead with six minutes to go.
They stretched it to 66-58 under the four-minute mark, and seemed to be in control, until a series of offensive rebounds, missed free throws, and more offensive rebounds by the Tigers resulted in five straight points without the Owls regaining possession.
DeCosey drove in for a three-point play that pushed the lead back to 69-63.
But Memphis kept coming.
The Tigers scored, pressed, and the Owls beat the pressure into the frontcourt. But DeCosey dribbled into a trap and threw an ill-advised pass, which the Tigers intercepted and converted on a fastbreak to cut the lead to 69-67 with 2:01 to go.
After Cummings hit two free throws, Godfrey scored, then Enechionyia missed a three-pointer, and Burrell scored to tie the game – all of it setting up Cummings’ heroics.
DeCosey finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Morgan had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Enechionyia had nine points, three rebounds, and three blocked shots.
The Owls shot 45.5 percent from the floor, including an 8 of 19 mark from three-point range. With 10 minutes left in the game, they were 6 for 13 from the free throw line – before hitting 16 straight to finish 22 of 29.
Memphis shot 42.5 percent from the field, but made just 5 of 20 threes. Of note, Morgan blanketed the Tigers’ best perimeter shooter, Avery Woodson, for most of the game. Woodson managed just five shots in 25 minutes, and hit his only basket – a three – when Temple switched to zone defense for a couple possessions. (The Owls got a steal on the other possession.)
Playing without their starting center and leading scorer, Austin Nichols, the Tigers got double-figure scoring from all five starters – Burrell (16), Godfrey (13), Shaq Goodwin (15), Kedren Johnson (14), and Markel Crawford (12).
Memphis committed just six turnovers in the contest – far better than its 15 turnovers in February’s 61-60 loss to Temple, in which Memphis blew a 16-point lead.
This game was much different. And even though the Owls committed 10 turnovers in this one, they were much better against the Tigers’ fullcourt pressure. In fact, after the Owls broke the press and drew a pair of Memphis fouls in the first two minutes of the contest, Coach Josh Pastner called it off – until the game’s waning moments.
With the victory, the Owls improved to 23-9 on the season. It was also their first league tournament win since 2011. They lost their A-10 and American tournament openers in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
And it was the 500th win of Dunphy’s career – 310 at Penn and 190 at Temple.
Cummings has 340 assists in his Temple career. None were bigger than No. 340.
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