SMU SQUEEZES BY UCONN

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Image result for SMU vs UConn February 12

BY:  Dic Humphrey                                                                                                                                                                   MEMBER:  United States Basketball Writers Association

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Feron Hunt scored a career high 23 points Wednesday night to lead the SMU Mustangs to a 79-75 win over the University of Connecticut Huskies.  UConn is leaving the American Athletic Conference after this season, so this game is likely to be the last time for a while (maybe forever) before they face the Mustangs again in Dallas.  The win Wednesday was absolutely critical for the Mustangs to maintain any hope for post season play, and the task was not easy.  Connecticut came in on a two game winning streak as they beat Tulsa and Cincinnati last week when both those teams were in first place in the conference race.  SMU is now 17-6 for the season and 7-4 in conference play.  Connecticut falls to 13-11 and 4-7.

Hunt started the first 16 games this year after forging his way into the starting lineup as a freshman late last season.  He averaged 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in those 16 games, but was inexplicably benched and has not started in the seven games since.  He admitted recently that the benching made him mad.  After Wednesday’s game though, he spoke about the reasons for playing well coming off the bench, “Just staying the course.  Accepting my new role and trying to do what’s best for the team.”  He did say about his performance against the Huskies, “I think this might be by far my best game (at SMU).”  

Point guard Kendric Davis said about Hunt, “He had too many distractions going on at first (when he was benched).  He was mixed up like anybody would be.   (Tonight), he just came out here and played hard again.  When you play hard, everything else falls into place.”  

Hunt played 31 minutes.  He shot 8-9 from the field, which included 2-2 from the three point line.  He also hit five of six free throws and led the Mustangs with seven rebounds.

The flow of the game was very similar to last Saturday’s loss at Temple.  SMU started slow, but took over to lead 38-32 at halftime.  In the second half, the Mustangs pushed the lead to as many as 15 points with about 11-1/2 minutes left in regulation.  That’s when the Huskies began their run.  Two minutes later, Connecticut had the lead down below 10 points.  With six minutes left SMU’s lead was less than 10 points for the balance of the game.  

Unlike last Saturday’s game, the Mustangs were able to hold on to the lead for the win.  With 16 seconds remaining, the Huskies had cut the lead to just two points.  Hunt went to the free throw line and coolly sank both free throws to push the lead to four points making it a two possession game.  A quick basket by UConn’s Jalen Gaffney brought the lead down to two points again with 11 seconds left.  The Huskies fouled again after failing to intercept the in-bounds pass.  Hunt again answered the call sinking two more free throws to effectively ice the game. 

“I wasn’t going to let yall down,” Hunt said about those four free throws in the last minute.     

“I’m really proud of him for a lot of reasons,” SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich said after the game talking about Hunt’s last minute free throws.  “He spent an awful lot of time last summer on a lot of things, shooting the ball, but also on his free throws.  For Feron here, the game could be lost if he misses the front end.  He played fantastic.  He’s doing what we’ve been working on and talking about.  He was very, very very good tonight.” 

Jankovich admitted after the game, “That was a big win.  That was one we needed to have.”  

Kendric Davis with 19 points and Emmanuel Bandoumel with 13 were the only other Mustangs to score in double digits.  Davis dished out six assists to lead SMU.  Four Connecticut players tallied in double digits:  James Booknight (21), Gaffney (13), Brendan Adams (11) and Christian Vital (10).  Isaiah Whaley led the Huskies with seven rebounds.   

After Wednesday’s action, SMU is alone in fourth place in the conference race, two games in the loss column behind Houston.  Fifth place Memphis is tied with the Mustangs in the loss column, but has one fewer win.  Tulsa and Cincinnati are tied for second place with 8-3 records.  

SMU plays again at home this Saturday against the American Athletic Conference leading Houston Cougars, ranked 20th this week in the AP poll.  Houston beat the Mustangs last month in Houston 71-62.  “As of today, they’re the best team in our league.  I’m very impressed with them,” Jankovich said about the Cougars.  “This is a big game.  I think we’re going to have to play our best game of the year to beat them.  They’re the most physical team in our league.  They are the best offensive rebounding team in the country.”  The Cougars are 20-5 for the season and 10-2 in conference.  Game time is 5:00 PM Central, and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

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