Brown returns as Ponies move to 9-0

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2015

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DIC.HUMPHREY@YAHOO.COM

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU Head Coach Larry Brown is back on the hardwoods as the Mustangs played their ninth game of the season this week to complete his NCAA suspension.  Coach Brown has to be pleased with what he sees upon his return as the Men’s basketball team remains undefeated with wins over Nicholls State and Hampton this week improving their record to 9-0.
The Mustangs had advanced to number 18 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll earlier this week before the pair of wins.    Thursday before the Hampton game, they also ranked 10th in the Sagarin ratings, just behind number nine North Carolina and just in front of number 11 Duke.
Brown was reunited with his team in the locker room after Thursday’s game.  He didn’t meet with the press, but Associate Head Coach Tim Jankovich did after seeing Brown.
He said, “It’s not easy for him to be gone.  The feeling of normalcy will come back for him.  Just from a personal standpoint, it was good to see him because it felt so wrong not to see him for so long.  The world seems a little more round.”
As for the transition back to Brown, Jankovich added, “We have a very good relationship.  I think it will go smoothly.”
The week began with SMU annihilating the Nicholls State Colonels Wednesday night.  Sterling Brown scored a three point basket 16 seconds into the game, and the Mustangs led for the final 39:44.   The suspense was over early in the this one as SMU scored the first 12 points, then went on an 8-0 run after Nicholls State’s first basket to run the score to 20-2 over the first 5.5 minutes.  SMU continued to push the lead to 31 points at halftime (48-17) and to 49 at one point in the second half before settling for an 86-42 win.
Colonels Head Coach J. P. Piper told the media, “They whipped us in every phase of the game.  Those guys are just superior athletes.  Our guys were often in the right place, but it didn’t matter.”
Nicholls State dropped to 3-5 with the loss.
Piper did take consolation in the experience.  As he left the interview room, he looked back to the assembled media with a big smile and said, “The neatest thing is seeing George Bush.”  The former President and his wife Laura were again in attendance both nights this week.
Jankovich talked about playing after the layoff for finals saying, “We had a rough week.  Between injuries and illness, and sometimes you can’t get everybody to a practice because of finals.  I was really pleased and surprised at how well we played tonight.”  He particularly noted the 20-2 start for his team, “Always hoping for those (quick starts).  It takes a lot of stress out of the coaches.  Sterling (Brown) kind of got us off to a good start.”
The Mustangs’ stats for the game were off the charts.  Four Mustangs scored in double digits led by Ben Moore with 22 and Shake Milton with 20 points.  Jordan Tolbert just missed the 20 point plateau with 19, and Sterling Brown scored 10.
Tolbert was just spectacular on the boards.  He again looked like a man playing among boys as he pulled down 23 rebounds to complete a double-double.  He said later that he didn’t think he had ever grabbed 20 in a game which includes his career at Texas Tech, and high school too.
Jankovich commented, “You can’t hardly sit here and not talk about Jordan Tolbert’s rebounding which is turning into almost like it looks like a video game sometimes the way he is rebounding.  A 23 rebound night!  I don’t care who you’re playing or when you’re playing or what you’re playing, you don’t see many of those.”
Ben Moore and Brown also had double digit rebound totals with 15 and 11.  Ben Moore was just two assists shy of a triple double.  His eight led the Mustangs, as the team tallied 24 assists for the game.
On Thursday night, the Mustangs whipped the Hampton Pirates 105-72.  The final score is deceiving, as this was a game of two drastically different halves.
Hampton came out with a hot shooting hand as they made eight three point baskets before intermission.  The Pirates led for more than 12 minutes in the period and pushed their lead to nine points at 24-15 before the Mustangs began to take charge.

December 8, 2015: SMU Mustangs host the Michigan Wolverines at Moody Coliseum in Dallas, TX in a nonconference NCAA basketball game.

Hampton was fresh having not played since December 5, and they looked energetic on the court.
The Ponies looked sluggish at the start.  They were short handed and playing on back-to-back days for the first time this season.  It took a while for the energy to kick in, but they rallied back from a nine point deficit to take the lead for good with a little less than seven minutes until halftime, when Sterling Brown made a layup to give SMU a 27-26 lead.  They seemingly had control of the game as they pushed the lead to 10 points at 41-31, but Hampton closed the gap to two points with a 10-2 run to end the half.
The second half though was SMU’s best offensive half of the season, if not the best half period.  The Mustangs scored 62 points, doubling Hampton’s 31.  Needless to say, the SMU stats were, again, very gaudy.  Six different players scored in double digits led by Sterling Brown’s 23, which is easily his highest scoring game of the year.  Tolbert also put in 20 and recorded his third double-double in the last four games by adding 19 rebounds. Jarrey Foster (14), Shake Milton (14), Ben Moore (16), and Nic Moore (18) were the other double digit scorers.  Nic Moore had a game high eight assists.
Hampton Head Coach Edward Joyner, Jr., who saw his team’s record fall to 4-4, said the difference in the two halves was, “They made shots, especially the threes.”
He was also very complimentary of Tolbert.  “He’s very long.  He’s very athletic.  He’s always around the ball.”
Jankovich again sang the praises of Tolbert.  “I think it’s crazy.  I’ve been around a lot of great college players, but not with the numbers he’s putting up right now.  These are just crazy numbers.  Our team as a group is putting up numbers I have not seen.  It’s amazing.  We’re seeing something you don’t see very often.”
SMU was expected to easily win both games this week, so perhaps the bigger story was who did not play.  Indeed it was shocking Wednesday night as the Mustangs took the court to see just two players dressed on the bench.  Markus Kennedy left the Michigan game with a severely sprained ankle after less than a minute of play.  It was not surprising that he would be held out.  However, neither Keith Frazier (knee) nor Sedrick Barefield (illness) was in uniform.  Frazier, like Kennedy, had not practiced since the Michigan game.
Jankovich indicated after the Hampton game that Kennedy and Frazier are close to being ready.  It sounds like they’ll both be back for next week’s games.
Jankovich said that Barefield had an upper respiratory virus and a fever.   However, rumors abound that Barefield is unhappy with his playing time and will transfer.  He appeared in five of the first seven games before sitting out the last two.  He has played 16 minutes total and has not scored.
Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye became eligible after the Nicholls State game, but the decision has been made to redshirt the junior.  Assuming injuries don’t force the Mustangs to play him later in the season, he’ll have two more seasons to complete his eligibility, seasons in which SMU will be eligible for post season play.
Jankovich said that Ojeleye and his parents were in on the decision, and that the player is totally on board.  “He wanted to (redshirt).  He and his family felt like it was the best thing.”
Brown will take over the reins from Jankovich with Saturday’s practice and will coach the games starting next week in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.
Certainly Jankovich did an outstanding job in Brown’s absence.  The Mustangs look on the court every bit as good as the record looks on paper.  Three of the wins have come over teams that are members of the power five football conferences, with two of those (Stanford and TCU) coming on the road.  The home win over Michigan was a truly dominating performance as the Mustangs won by 24 in front of a star studded audience that included former President and first lady George and Laura Bush, as well as players from area professional teams – Cowboys, Mavericks and Stars.
Jankovich did reflect on how the team has come along to start the season.
“We have been an outstanding rebounding team.  Maybe as good of numbers as I’ve seen in all my years of coaching.”
That is somewhat of a surprise as the Mustangs lost two key inside players from last year’s team – Yanick Moreira and Cannen Cunningham.  This year the front line is shorter with Kennedy the tallest at 6′-9”.  SMU is averaging 44.3 rebounds per game, and has a rebounding margin of 18 per game, which ranks second in the nation.
He also noted, “We are very unselfish.  The ball is shared, the ball is moved.”
The Mustangs are averaging 20.3 assists per game which ranks fifth in the nation.
“Their effort is outstanding.  It can always get better.  Their unselfishness and camaraderie is outstanding.  It has made for an outstanding start to the season.  They’ve been a really fun team to coach.”
He didn’t mention one other area that is clearly improved from last year – offensive execution. The half court offense is terrific!  They are averaging 84.9 points per game, and their shooting percentage is 53.2% which ranks fourth in the nation.
The games this week were part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.  That tournament continues next week in Las Vegas where the Mustangs will face Kent State on Tuesday, December 22 and either Colorado or Penn State on Wednesday, December 23.  That will wrap up the pre-Christmas schedule.  The Mustangs will then finish the year by opening conference play on December 29 in Tulsa against the Golden Hurricane.  The next game in Moody Coliseum is scheduled January 2 against South Florida.
All-American point guard Nic Moore wrapped up the situation with Brown returning and the job Jankovich did in the first nine games.  “The locker room when he came in, with the joy and the excitement, he didn’t have to say much.  It was just his presence.  It’s been great to have him (Jankovich) as coach.  He’s brought back fun to it, the intensity, the hard work, explaining why.  Now having Coach Brown back, we’re used to that.  He’ll catch on to how much we’ve changed.”

AND ALSO:
– Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter attended Wednesday’s Nicholls State game.
– The 9-0 start for SMU is the best since the 1997-98 season when they opened at 10-0.
– The 105 points scored against Hampton was the Mustangs’ first 100 point game during Larry Brown’s tenure as Head Coach.  The Mustangs last scored 100 in a game when they tagged Lamar with 102 in November of 2010.  The last time they scored as many as 105 was in 1999 with 110 against Hardin-Simmons.

 

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