MUSTANGS SURVIVE KNIGHTS

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, January 26th, 2017

December 8, 2015: The SMU Mustangs student body "The Mob" cheer at center court during the game between the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Michigan Wolverines at Moody Coliseum.  Photo by Vladimir Cherry

BY: Dic Humphrey

SMU beat the Central Florida Knights Wednesday night 65-60 to finish the first half of conference play. SMU led by nine at the half and as many as 12 points in the second half, but held off the Knights’ late charge for the win. Shake Milton scored 19, Semi Ojeleye 16 and Ben Moore 14 to lead the Mustangs.

“My thoughts are GREAT,” SMU head coach Tim Jankovich said about the game in his post game radio interview with Scott Garner on KAAM 770 AM. “Happy, great and proud. A lot of people in the country won’t understand what a big win this is for us.”

The Central Florida basketball program has been energized by first year coach Johnny Dawkins. The former Duke All-American has instantly made them into contenders for the conference championship spearheaded by center Tacko Fall and guard Matt Williams, one of the deadliest three point shooters in the country.

The Mustangs dressed just six scholarship players. Jarrey Foster made the trip to Orlando after sitting out the second half of last Saturday’s game with an injury. He was a game time decision and did not get medically cleared to play. Dashawn McDowell and Jonathan Wilfong saw limited action in the first half, but the five starters played the entire second half.

The key to the Mustangs’ win was turnovers. Central Florida had 15 to just seven for SMU. Included were 13 SMU steals as each of the starting five was credited with at least two swipes. SMU cashed in for 13 points off turnovers to just six for UCF. SMU guard Shake Milton had zero turnovers.

Central Florida came into the game ranked second in the nation in turnover margin. SMU was third. The Knights won the battle this night, just the third game this year that SMU did not out-rebound their opponent. However, the margin was small – just four at 36-32.

“Sharing the ball” has been a mantra of this SMU team. The Mustangs recorded 21 assists on 25 made baskets. Central Florida dished out just seven. Ben Moore was just one assist shy of the Knights’ total, as he led the Mustangs with six assists. “The awareness was great. The unselfishness was great,” Jankovich commented.

SMU had to deal with Fall, the biggest player in the conference at 7’-6”. He is on pace to destroy the NCAA record for shooting percentage. He usually plays little more than half the game, but Wednesday night he played 33 minutes, made five of seven shots, and led all rebounders with 12.

The Knights came out smoking from the three point arc. They hit five early, including four by Williams, to take a five point lead at 19-14, which was their largest of the game. The Mustangs then took over. They scored the next 11 points to take a lead they would never relinquish. By halftime, they enlarged the margin to nine at 35-26.

Over the first two minutes of the second half, the Mustangs ran the lead up to 12 points, their largest of the game. The Knights however were relentless. They cut the lead into single digits and kept pursuing. Twice in the last minute, UCF got within four.

“We handled the pressure and made the free throws late.” Jankovich said. The Mustangs hit five of six from the free throw line in the last minute.

The Mustangs are now 18-4 for the season and 8-1 in American Athletic Conference play. That represents half the regular season conference schedule. They have played five road games, four home games and have faced every team in the conference except Tulsa. They are one game behind 7-0 Cincinnati in the loss column. They lead third place Tulsa by two games (one in the loss column) and hold a 2-1/2 game lead over Memphis and Central Florida, both at 5-3. Houston at 5-4 and Connecticut at 4-4 are still in contention for the title.

The Mustangs are off this weekend, and the respite could not come at a better time with Foster’s injury. He is expected to be cleared to play next Wednesday when SMU next takes the court against East Carolina. The Pirates are 10-11 and 2-6 after beating Tulsa Wednesday night. The game has the unusual start time of 8:30 PM and will be televised on ESPN News.

AND ALSO:

  • Shake Milton was named to the American Athletic Conference “Honor Roll” this week for his performance in the Connecticut and Houston wins last week. He scored 50 points, dished out 11 assists and pulled down 10 rebounds. Amazingly, that was not good enough to be the conference “Player of the Week”.
  • The coaches for both teams wore tennis shoes during the UCF game for prostate cancer awareness.
  • SMU has now won four straight games and 15 of their last 16. They are 4-1 on the road in conference play.
  • SMU is 9-6 all time against Central Florida and has won the last six in the series. These two teams face each other just once in conference play this season.

 

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