It was a turnaround season to best all others for Temple men's basketball in 2014-15, as its 26-11 mark gave the Owls 17 more wins than in the previous year. No other team in NCAA Division I boasted such an impressive increase, and it was truly a return to form for the storied program.
While Temple fell just barely short of its goal of earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Owls made the most of an opportunity to compete on the national stage in the postseason. As a top seed in the National Invitation Tournament, Temple won three games to advance to the NIT Semifinals at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City. While a spot in the championship game was denied them by Miami (Fla.), the Owls had plenty to be proud of after their impressive run.
Temple won nine more games in its second season as a member of the American Athletic Conference than it had in the first, going 13-5 in league play. Head Coach Fran Dunphy
was recognized by his peers for the achievement, earning Coach of the Year honors for the third time in his nine years with the program.
Leading the way all season long was senior point guard Will Cummings
, named to the American Athletic Conference First Team after ranking among the league's top five players in scoring (14.8/3rd), assists (4.2/5th), steals (1.9/2nd), free-throw percentage (.808/3rd) and assist/turnover ratio (2.1/3rd). Cummings nearly single-handedly willed the team to victory in the NIT First Round, scoring a season-high 30 points in the win over Bucknell and setting the example his teammates would follow over the next few games.
For much of the season, it was a tale of two teams for the Owls, who fared far better with a full, healthy lineup than they did without it.
After opening the season at 6-4, Temple had its full lineup available for the first time on Dec. 18 at Delaware. Senior guard Jesse Morgan
and junior guard Devin Coleman
became eligible for that contest after transferring from UMass and Clemson, respectively, and their impact was felt immediately.
Morgan went 4-of-8 from long range in his first game as an Owl, scoring 16 points and helping Temple come just three shy of its all-time single-game record for three-pointers in a game. Seven other players also connected from behind the arc in the win, including Coleman whose three treys helped the Owls get to 16 overall.
The Delaware win was the first in what became a six-game win streak for Temple, highlighted by a dominating, 77-52 win against #10 Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 22. For the Owls, it marked a win over a ranked team for an eighth consecutive year, and the win was Dunphy's sixth over a Top 10 team. Temple made 18 of its final 23 shots from the field in the victory, pulling away early in the second half and leading by no fewer than 20 for the final nine minutes.
The fourth win in the streak was over defending national champion UConn, on the road in the conference opener for both teams. Temple prevailed in overtime against the Huskies, and would go on to defeat them again at home in early March.
After three consecutive wins to open league play, Temple was dealt a blow in a home game against Tulsa on Jan. 10. An injury to Cummings would force him to miss all or part of three straight games, all of which were losses for the Owls. With Cummings back in the lineup on Jan. 22 against USF, Temple regained form and would go on to win seven straight games, its longest streak of the season.
Included in the run was a 61-60 win at Memphis, thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper by sophomore guard Josh Brown
off an assist from Cummings. In the game following, Temple avenged an earlier loss to Cincinnati with a 75-59 home win against the Bearcats.
The Owls suffered a couple of setbacks on a long Texas road trip in mid-February, falling at both SMU and Tulsa, but rebounded to win their final three conference games of the season. Temple earned the fourth seed at the American Athletic Conference Tournament, and pulled out an 80-75 win against Memphis in the quarterfinals on March 13. The win was the 500th career victory for Dunphy, who had been named Coach of the Year the day prior.
SMU got the best of Temple for a third time in the conference semifinals, putting the Owls on the bubble for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Despite a number of projections putting Temple in the field, on Selection Sunday it was not to be. The Owls were awarded the top seed in the NIT and made the most of the three home games they were fortunate to host in the postseason.
While most of the season's accolades went deservedly to Cummings, the senior leader had plenty of help in getting the Owls their 26 wins, tying for the seventh-most in program history. Junior guard Quenton DeCosey started in 35 games and averaged 12.3 points per game to rank second behind Cummings. Junior forward Jaylen Bond
averaged 7.9 rebounds per game to lead all players in The American, and recorded a team-best five double-doubles over the course of the season. Morgan and junior center Devontae Watson
rounded out the starting five for much of the year, with Brown and freshman forward Obi Enechionyia
playing meaningful roles off the bench.
Enechionyia, the team's lone freshman in 2014-15, scored a season-high 17 points in the final game of the season for Temple. His 45 blocks led the Owls and tied for sixth in the conference. Brown, who will likely take over the point guard responsibilities for Temple in 2015-16, was the Owls' top reserve as a sophomore. He scored 6.3 points per game to rank fifth on the team, and was unflappable at the free throw line, hitting 63-of-73 (86.3 percent).
Temple will return four of its top six point-scorers along with its two leading rebounders in Bond and DeCosey. With a trio of standout recruits set to join the Owls next season, the outlook for a return to the NCAA Tournament is a good one for the nation's sixth-winningest Division I program.Highlight Video