SMU SURVIVES TO PLAY ANOTHER DAY
By: Dic Humphrey
The SMU Men’s basketball team played an outstanding first half to build a 24 point, and then turned in their worst half of basketball this season to barely hang on for the win. East Carolina stormed back in the second half with deadly three point shooting and an effective full court press to tie the game before losing 81-77 in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Mustangs improved to 28-4 with the win. They will play Central Florida Saturday afternoon after the Knights beat Memphis 84-54. East Carolina’s season is finished at 15-18.
The Mustangs played a workmanlike first half with almost everything going their way. Semi Ojeleye got SMU off to a good start as the Ponies built a double digit lead in the first 11 minutes. That lead ultimately grew to 24 points, and the Ponies led at the half, 43-21.
Things unraveled in the second half though. The Mustangs turned the ball over, and East Carolina made three point shots. The Pirates eventually (and amazingly) tied the game at 77 in the last minute. However, SMU scored the final four points to put the game in the win column.
The statistics tell a radically different story than SMU’s norm. The Mustangs have routinely out-rebounded their opponents; but on this day, East Carolina nudged them out 32-31. 13 of the Pirates’ rebounds were offensive boards, giving them multiple scoring chances. The Pirates really warmed up from the three point line. They made 13 to just four for SMU. The turnovers were extremely costly. Mustangs gave it away 16 times to just 11 for ECU, allowing the Pirates to outscore SMU in points off turnovers by seven.
On the scoring side, the Ponies usually have a balanced attack with at least three and most often four players scoring in double digits. On Friday afternoon there were just two. Semi Ojeleye showed why he was named Conference Player of the year. He poured in a career high 36 points to lead all scorers in the game, and he completed a double-double with 13 rebounds. Sterling Brown was the only other Mustang in double digits with 16 points. The free throw line saved the day for SMU. They made 21, while East Carolina shot just 16 for a nine point edge.
At the end of the day though, SMU shot 60% from the floor and held East Carolina to 41%. The turnovers, offensive rebounds and three point shots kept the Pirates in the game, but when all was said and done; SMU won and advanced.
The Mustangs will face Central Florida Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM (Eastern)/2:00 PM (Central) in the tournament semifinals. ESPN2 will televise the game.
- The AAC announced awards this week, and SMU cleaned up. Semi Ojeleye was named Player of the Year and Scholar Athlete of the Year. Tim Jankovich was named Coach of the Year. Ben Emelogu won the conference’s “Sixth Man of the Year” Award. Sterling Brown, Ben Moore and Shake Milton were named second team All-Conference.
- The 28 wins ties the SMU season record. The Mustangs had already set school records for most regular season wins (27) and most conference wins (17).
- STREAKS: SMU has won 14 consecutive games, the third longest winning streak in school history and the fourth longest active streak in the NCAA. The Mustangs have won 24 of their last 25 games.
- SMU is 37-4 with Tim Jankovich as Head Coach.