Dunphy was down, but never out over Temple's snub

NEW YORK - He rarely shows much emotion in public, but on one day Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy ever so slightly let his guard down.

It was the day after the NCAA selected the 68-team field and Temple was the 69th choice. After Temple had gone though a surprisingly peppy practice, as the team showed boundless energy less than 24 hours after the deflating decision, Dunphy spoke briefly about his current state of mind.

"This really hurts," he said in a low whisper.

Even though he was clearly already in a mind-set toward steering his team in the NIT, Dunphy was down. He knew his team couldn't outwardly see him this way, so his only recourse was to prepare like crazy for Bucknell, the first-round opponent.

That Monday, March 16, seems so long ago. Three NIT wins later, Temple (26-10) will visit Madison Square Garden on Tuesday for a semifinal game against Miami (24-12).

"We're thrilled to be here," Dunphy said Monday at a news conference.

After the initial disappointment, Dunphy, 66, did the only thing that 26 years as a head coach has taught him - prepare for the next game.

"I think moving forward is what we all do," Dunphy said when recalling how difficult it was to bounce back. "We are in a high-and-low business and if you can't handle the highs and lows, it is probably not the right world you should be in."

Even though Dunphy did his best to mask his feelings and portray a positive image, his team knew how much being snubbed by the NCAA had hurt its coach.

"He did the best he could, but he is a competitor as a coach and you could tell he had the same emotions we had," said point guard Will Cummings, who has averaged 22 points in the three NIT wins. "Ultimately you have to shake it off."

And leading the shaking was Dunphy.

"He was the first one to refocus," Cummings said. "He talked to me and made sure the team would be ready and would look forward to playing in the NIT."

That is exactly what happened.

After sort of a sluggish start, the Owls, behind a season-high 30 points from Cummings outlasted a gritty Bucknell team, 73-67. The Owls have gotten progressively better, defeating George Washington, 90-77, scoring a season-high point total, and then downing Louisiana Tech, 77-59.

All three games were at the Liacouras Center, a product of the Owls earning the top seed in their bracket. That surely helped, as did the attitude of their coach, who had never competed in the NIT but has been to the NCAA tournament 15 times, nine with Penn and six times in nine seasons at Temple.

The first thing Dunphy told his team after hearing the NCAA news was the same line he voiced to the media. "I told them if this is the most disappointed they will be in their lifetime, they will have a great life," Dunphy said.

In the NIT, teams that are disappointed with failing to make the NCAA tournament have only two ways to go. Temple chose to make the most of the situation and followed the lead of its coach.

Dunphy never publicly blasted the NCAA. Immediately for Temple, it was back to business and Dunphy knew all eyes would be on how he handled the disappointment.

"I wish I could have gotten us into the NCAA tournament," he said. "It didn't happen, but I told our team we had a great opportunity in front of us and let's take advantage of it."

The Owls obviously have, with no small part from their coach. In a season when he won his 500th career game, Dunphy's greatest achievement may be happening right now.


NIT: Temple vs. Miami

All-time series: Temple leads, 2-1. The Owls won the most recent meeting, 73-56, on Nov. 27, 2005, at home.

Road to the semifinals: Miami beat N.C. Central, 75-71; Alabama, 73-66, and Richmond, 63-61; Temple beat Bucknell, 73-67; George Washington, 90-77, and Louisiana Tech, 77-59.

About Miami: Angel Rodriguez, a transfer from Kansas State, who missed the last two games after reinjuring his wrist, isn't expected to play. "He is not likely to even be in uniform," Larranaga said Monday. "He hasn't practiced." . . . The Hurricanes rallied from a 36-18 deficit early in the second half to defeat host Richmond, 63-61, in their NIT quarterfinal win. . . . Ja'Quan Newton is a freshman from Neumann-Goretti. He had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists against Richmond. ... Manu Lecomte is averaging 13 points in the three NIT games, while Tonye Jerkiri is averaging 9.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. . . . Ivan Cruz Uceda is a transfer from Harcum College in Bryn Mawr. . . . Davon Reed played high school basketball at the Princeton Day School. - Marc Narducci


mnarducci@phillynews.com

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