Tiger’s Den – Cummings was Pete’s motivator in March
Greensboro, North Carolina – On the heels of Pitt’s 59-41 victory over Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, senior guard Nellie Cummings walked in front of the Pitt cheerleaders’ section.
Cummings lifted his shirt and shouted, “We’re back!” to a beloved band of Pete henchmen at the Greensboro Coliseum. The program was celebrating winning two tournament games in the same year for the first time since 2009.
The Midland, Pennsylvania native laughed it off and admitted he was caught in the moment of an NCAA Tournament win, but that win was also personal to Pitt’s starting point.
How could it not be?
Cummings wasn’t recruited by Pitt out of high school, but as a highly sought-after player in the transfer gate last season, Pitt was the first school contacted him, and he wasted little time signing up to play for his hometown team.
“That’s what I’m back to doing,” Cummings said after leading Pitt to two championship wins last week. “It’s definitely a personal thing for me, but it’s good for everyone in it. I was glad I was able to do it for everyone…and we’re not done yet.”
Cummings still handing a Sweet 16 or greater berth to Pete is in the cards this year, but now that the initial goal has been met, he wanted to shake things up at his hometown program.
Pitt missed six straight NCAA championships prior to his arrival. He brought the leadership factor and experience that was invaluable to this team all season, and it was brought to another level in March.
Cummings played in the previous two NCAA tournaments with Colgate and has been able to build on that experience so far in this year’s big dance. Pitt led in scoring both times, having scored 15 points against Mississippi State, and 13 in the dominant win over Iowa State.
Pitt coach Jeff Capel had the idea that bringing in a point guard with March experience would be beneficial to his program.
“He probably has more experience in the NCAA Tournament than anyone on our team, and he’s always played well in the tournament,” Capel said of his starting point. “If you look back at his time at Colgate at the NCAA Championship games he’s played, he’s played very well.”
He is not mistaken.
Cummings has now played in four NCAA Tournament games considering his time at Colgate and both games this postseason he has a very impressive stat streak. Cummings averages 15.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in four NCAA Tournaments, and is a 43% shooter as well.
Capel said, “Nellie’s a really confident guy. We have a lot of faith in him. We know he can go ahead with some moves where he can put the ball in the basket. He’s done that all year, and we have a lot of faith in him to do that.”
Cummings’ personal breakthrough Friday in the team’s victory over Iowa State was remarkable. He scored 11 of his team-high 13 points in the second half. Cummings produced a traditional three-point play and a three-pointer in the opening sequence of the first half to give the Hurricanes some breathing room.
“The game was just kind of played the way it was,” Cummings said of the second half push. “I wasn’t consciously thinking that I had to do a play. The opportunity presented itself and I just wanted to take it.”
Cummings has been able to do that for Pitt several times this season, a trait that has been noted by opposing coaches as well. Xavier’s coach Sean Miller, a former point guard of Pitt himself, sees the winning qualities in guarding the Panthers.
“Nelly is a very good player,” Mel said of the Pitt guard. “You know, what I like about him is he can score double digits and he makes his team mates better… Obviously in Nelly’s case he can beat you with his scoring, his three-point shooting and he can also beat you by getting in the lane and improving persons performance.
His teammates have nurtured these traits throughout the season.
“I would just say that Nelly is competitive,” Jamarius Burton said of his fellow backcourt. “You know, when he comes into the game aggressively, we feed on his energy. You know, he started the last half of the game erratically, and we definitely tapped into that energy and were able to keep going.”
Cummings came to Pitt to turn things around, and his teammates saw the personal ownership he had with this program all season long.
“It’s about what the human Pittsburgh stands for,” said Blake Henson. “Just a real dog, and that’s just…we’re feeding on that.”
It’s been a whirlwind ride for Cummings. This is his sixth year in college and he is in his third program. He appreciates the journey as he heads into today’s game and is proud of what they’ve accomplished up to this point.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Cummings said. “I think it’s good for the program, the university and the city to get us back in the championship.”
Cummings came to Pete with a goal in mind and went out and made it, and the story is still being written.