Number 23 Comes With Ease
BY: Dic Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Mustangs won their 23rd game with ease Saturday afternoon, taking down Central Florida 70-55 in front of a sellout Moody Coliseum crowd. The win improved the Mustangs’ record to 23-6 overall and 12-4 in conference play. The Knights fell to 11-16 and 3-12.
SMU’s Nick Russell led the Mustangs to an explosive start. He scored the first goal of the game 14 seconds after the tip and hit a three pointer to cap an 18-4 run over the first 8.30 of the game. In between, Russell scored two other baskets to total 10 of those first 18 points.
From there, UCF scrappily got back into the game. Head coach Donnie Jones, who was forced to call two of his allotted five timeouts in the first five minutes, threw out his offensive game plan of pick and rolls, went small with a lineup, spread the floor, and drove the basket.
“We had to go smaller and do some different things,” Coach Jones said. It worked. His team outscored SMU 17-7 to cut the Mustangs’ lead to four with 4:08 left until halftime. That proved to be the closest UCF would get though, as SMU pulled away to lead by 11 (34-23) at intermission.
In the second half, SMU ran the lead up to 18 points, their largest of the game, over the first six plus minutes. The out-manned Knights never gave up however. They played hard, twice cutting the lead to less than 10 points. The Mustangs simply had too much firepower.
Four Mustangs ended the game with double digit point totals. Center Markus Kennedy had a game high 18 points and eight rebounds. Russell with 15, Nic Moore with 13 and Ryan Manuel with 10, also scored in double figures.
UCF’s Isaiah Sykes tied Kennedy for game high scoring honors with 18 points. He was joined by Kasey Wilson as the other double digit scorer for Central Florida. Tristan Spurlock pulled down seven rebounds to lead the Knights.
After the game, SMU coach Larry Brown was not particularly pleased. “I didn’t like the way we played. We didn’t play like a ranked team.” He noted poor shot selection and inconsistent defensive effort in particular. “I didn’t think we played as hard as they did. They just didn’t make shots.”
The sellout crowd was announced as 7,086, but there were notable areas of empty seats, particularly in the student section. A pretty day outside, Mardi Gras, and a lesser opponent were offered as distractions for the no-shows. He added that “We’ve got a wonderful building. We’ve had unbelievable support. I want people (opponents) to dread coming here.” He particularly noted they will need the crowd support Wednesday against Louisville.
It is no longer a question if the Mustangs will make the NCAA Tournament. It’s really a question of seeding. Other games on Saturday helped the Ponies. First, 10 teams in the AP Top 25 lost, including five of the top 10, as Saturday proved to be an astounding day in college basketball history for upsets of highly regarded teams. Eight of the 10 losses came at the hands of unranked teams. The Mustangs will surely move up from their ranking of 23 and 24 in the two major polls this week.
“This ranking doesn’t mean anything to me right now,” Brown said. “I’m proud that we’re Top 25 in a lot of people’s eyes, but we’ve got a lot of things ahead of us, and a lot of great opportunities. We have to better than we did today.”
The American Athletic Conference race looks dramatically different too. Cincinnati and Louisville were two of the ranked teams losing Saturday, dealing the Ponies back into the conference championship picture. They both have three conference losses and lead the Mustangs by one game with two to play. SMU occupies third place alone, one game in the loss column ahead of Memphis and Connecticut. SMU will be playing for at least a tie for second place when they host Louisville Wednesday night.
The Ponies will try to complete the home portion of their schedule undefeated. They are 15-0 at home, including 9-0 in Moody Coliseum. The last home game against Louisville is Wednesday at 6:00 PM, an hour earlier than the usual weeknight start time. It will be broadcast on KAAM (770 AM) in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and nationally televised on the CBS Sports Network.
- SMU head coach Larry Brown was named on February 27 as one of 10 finalists for the U. S. Basketball Writers of America Coach of the Year Award.
- 23 wins ties for the fifth highest win total in SMU history.
- SMU came into Saturday’s game leading the conference and ranked second in the nation in opponents’ shooting percentage at 36.5%. They held UCF to 37.5%.