MUSTANGS ARE FIVE AND OH
BY: Dic Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU ran their record to 5-0 with an 83-70 victory over Rider Wednesday night before a Moody Coliseum crowd of 2,901. It was the second straight game for SMU to score 80 points or more, and the Mustangs are averaging 75.6 points per game. Rider, which is in Lawrenceville, New Jersey near Princeton, fell to 2-2 for the season with the loss. Four Mustangs scored in double digits, with Ryan Manuel leading the way with 24 and Cannen Cunningham close behind at 20. Both scoring totals were career highs, and Manuel also grabbed 11 rebounds to become the second Pony to record a “double-double” this season.
SMU Head Coach Larry Brown was obviously pleased with the win afterward. He was especially pleased with the play of guards Nick Russell and Manuel, saying about Rider, “They’re really athletic. They’re really well coached. You can’t beat a team like that without good guard play.”
SMU scored the first nine points and never trailed in the game as they took a 38-34 lead into the halftime locker room. The Mustangs twice led by 10 in the first half at 13-3 and 24-14, but each time Rider answered with a run to keep the game close. At the half, Manuel led the Mustangs in both points with 10 and rebounds with five. Russell was close behind with nine points, as he knocked down three shots from beyond the three point mark.
SMU played a workmanlike second half. Rider slowed their running game with a zone press and went zone for in the half-court for most of the game. The Mustangs were playing their fourth game in seven days have had little practice time to prepare, but Russell said afterward that they spent tremendous amounts of time watching video of their opponent to get ready for Rider’s pressure defense. The Mustangs ran the lead back out to 10 in the first seven minutes, taking a 53-43 lead, though Rider later cut the lead to three points at 55-52. That’s as close as Rider got in the second half. The final margin of 13 points was SMU’s largest lead of the night.
Brown was also complimentary of Cunningham, who became the fourth Mustang to tally 20 points in a game this season. “Matt (Doherty) told me when I got this job that he (Cunningham) is a special kid,” Brown said. “Whatever Cannen does doesn’t surprise me. The box score never tells you what he does.”
There is growing concern over minutes. Each of the five starters played more than 30 minutes with Russell and Manuel recording 38. Manuel admitted after the game, “I’m dead tired right now.” Collectively, the starting five logged 174 of the 200 total game minutes, with London Giles with 16 minutes being the only player off the bench with material playing time. The rest of the bench played just 10. Giles is slowed with a leg injury, and Brown is hoping for improved health from him and for one or two of the freshmen to step up and contribute. The most likely of those appears to be 7’-0” Jordan Dickerson. Blaise Mbargorba was expected to be the freshman that made the biggest contribution this season, but he had shoulder surgery on Tuesday and is likely done for the season.
Brown did note that the team has a two week break for finals after playing Hofstra on December 1. He thinks the rest will rejuvenate the starters who are logging so many minutes, and he is looking forward to the time for practice (“practice?”) to work on more of the nuances of the game he has not been able to get to. He does say about his players, “I’m proud of them. I see improvement in all of them.” He deserves to be proud of them as the Mustangs are 5-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season, when they opened with 10 wins.
The Hoops for Hope Classic continues this weekend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where they will face Arkansas-Little Rock Saturday and either South Carolina or Missouri State on Sunday. It will mark the third time in SMU basketball history to play regular season games on foreign soil. The Mustangs return home next Wednesday against Utah.