Greensboro, NC Senior guard Nellie Cummings walks in front of the Pitt fan section after Pitt’s 59-41 win over Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Cummings raised his jersey and shouted the words ‘we’re back’ to a cheering contingent of Pitt loyalists at the Greensboro Coliseum. The program was celebrating winning two tournament games in the same year for the first time since 2009.
The Midland, Pa. native laughed it off and admitted he was caught up in the moment of scoring the NCAA tournament victory, but that victory was also personal for Pitt’s starting point guard.
How could it not be?
Cummings was not recruited by Pitt out of high school, but as a highly sought-after player in the transfer portal the previous season, Pitt was the first school to reach out to him, and he signed up to play for his hometown team. Wasted very little time doing it.
Cummings said, “That’s what I came home to do.” “It’s definitely a personal thing for me, but it’s good for everyone in it. I was just glad I could do this for everyone… and we’re not done yet.”
Delivering a Sweet 16 berth or more is still in the cards for Pitt this year, but while that initial goal was met, he wanted to turn things around for his hometown event.
Pitt had not played in 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 it was raised to another level in March.
Cummings played in the last two NCAA tournaments for Colgate, and he has been able to draw on that experience so far in this year’s big dance. He has led Pitt in scoring both times after posting 15 points against Mississippi State and 13 in dominant wins over Iowa State.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel had the idea for March to bring in a point guard with experience that would be beneficial to his program.
Capel said of his starting point guard, “He probably has the most experience in the NCAA tournament of anyone on our team, and he’s always done well in tournaments.” “If you look at his time at Colgate in the games he played in the NCAA tournament, he played very well.”
He is not wrong.
Cummings has now factored in four NCAA tournament games in his time at Colgate and both games this post-season and he has a very impressive stat line. In four career NCAA tournament appearances, Cummings is averaging 15.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals, and is also shooting 43%.
Capel said, “Nelly is a really confident young man.” We have great faith in him to do this.
Cummings’ individual surge was notable on Friday in the team’s victory over Iowa State. 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 Panthers some breathing room from the Cyclones.
Cummings said of that second half push, “the game was just playing the way it was.” “I wasn’t intentionally thinking I had to make a play. The opportunity presented itself and I just wanted to take it.
Cummings has been able to do this for Pitt several times this season and it is a quality that opposing coaches have noticed as well. Xavier coach Sean Miller, himself a former Pitt point guard, sees winning qualities in the Panthers’ lead guard.
“Neely is a very good player,” Milley said of the pit guard. “You know, what I love about him is that he can both score a double-figure score and he also makes his teammates better … , can beat with his three-point shooting, and beat you by going in the lane and making people better.
His teammates have fed off those qualities throughout the season.
“I will just say that Nelly is a competitor,” Jamarius Burton said of his backcourt partner. “You know, when it comes to offensive play, we feed off of his energy. You know, he started well the last half of the game, and we definitely fed off that energy and tried to keep it going.” were able to keep.
Cummings came to Pitt to turn things around, and his teammates saw his personal ownership with the program throughout the season.
Blake Hinson said, “He is everything that Pittsburgh represents man.” “Just the real dog, and he just…we feed him.”
It has been a whirlwind ride for Cummings. This is his sixth year in college and he is on his third program. Entering the game today, he appreciates the journey and is proud of what he has achieved so far.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Cummings said. “I think getting us back in the tournament is a good thing for the program, the university and the city.”
Cummings came to Pitt with a goal in mind and he went out and did it, and the story is still being written.