GREENSBORO, North Carolina –The day after Pitt’s 59-41 win over Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, senior guard Nelly Cummings walked past Pitt’s fan section.
Cummings lifted his jersey and shouted the words “We’re back” to an adoring contingent of Pitt worshipers at Greensboro Coliseum. The program celebrated winning two tournament matches in the same year for the first time since 2009.
The Midland, Pa. native laughed it off and admitted he was overtaken by the moment to earn a win at the NCAA Tournament, but that victory was also personal for Pitt’s starting point guard.
How could it be otherwise?
Cummings wasn’t recruited by Pitt out of high school, but as a highly sought-after player on the transfer portal last season, Pitt was the first school to contact him, and he wasted little time searching. sign up to play on their hometown team.
“That’s what I came in to do,” Cummings said after leading Pitt to two tournament wins last week. “It’s definitely a personal thing for me, but it’s good for everyone. I was just happy that I got to do this for everyone…and we’re not done yet.
Cummings delivering a Sweet 16 or higher spot for Pitt is still in the cards this year, but so far the original goal has been achieved he wanted to turn things around for his hometown program.
Pitt had missed six consecutive NCAA tournaments prior to his arrival. He brought a leadership and experience factor that has been invaluable to this team throughout the season, and he was elevated to another level in March.
Cummings has played in the last two NCAA tournaments for Colgate and he’s been able to leverage that experience so far in this year’s big dance. He led Pitt in scoring both times, having posted 15 points against Mississippi State and 13 in the dominating win over Iowa State.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel came up with the idea of bringing in a point guard with March experience who would benefit his program.
“He probably has the most NCAA Tournament experience of anyone on our team, and he’s always played well in the tournament,” Capel said of his starting point guard. “If you think back to his time at Colgate in the games they played in the NCAA Tournament, he played very well.”
He’s not wrong.
Cummings has now played in four NCAA Tournament games considering his time at Colgate and the two games this postseason and he has a very impressive stat line. Cummings is averaging 15.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals in four career NCAA tournaments, and he’s also a 43% shooter.
“Nelly is a really confident young man,” Capel said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. We know he can go on bursts where he can put the ball in the basket. He’s done that all year, and we have a lot of confidence in him to do that.
The personal push Cummings had on Friday in the team’s win over Iowa State was remarkable. He scored 11 of his team-high 13 points in the second half. Cummings produced a conventional three-point play and a three-pointer in the opening sequence of the first half to give the Panthers some breathing room against the Cyclones.
“The game kind of went the way it was,” Cummings said of that second-half push. “I didn’t consciously think I had to make a play. The opportunity came and I just wanted to take it.
Cummings has been able to do that for Pitt on several occasions this season and it’s a trait opposing coaches have noticed as well. Xavier’s coach Sean Miller, himself a former Pitt point guard, sees winning qualities in the Panthers point guard.
“Nelly is a very good player,” Mille said of guard Pitt. “You know, what I like about him is that he can both score in double figures and he also makes his teammates better…Obviously in Nelly’s case he can beat you with his score, his three point shot, and he can also beat you by getting into the lane and making people better.
His teammates have fed on these qualities throughout the season.
“I would just say Nelly is a competitor,” Jamarius Burton said of her longtime mate. “You know, when he comes into the game aggressively, you feed off of his energy. You know, he started the last half game on a streak, and we definitely fed off of that energy and were able to keep it going. .
Cummings came to Pitt to turn things around, and his teammates saw that personal ownership he has with that program all season long.
“It’s all about what Pittsburgh stands for the man,” Blake Hinson said. “Just a real dog, and it’s just that…we feed on it.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Cummings. This is his sixth year at university and he is in his third program. He is enjoying the course as he heads into today’s game and is proud of what they have achieved so far.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Cummings said. “I think it’s a good thing for the program, the university and the city to have us back in the tournament.”
Cummings came to Pitt with a goal in mind and he went out and did it, and the story is still being written.