A disappointing loss at Temple tempers the Mustangs’ charge
BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The Mustangs’ two game road trip to the New York – Philadelphia area this week came to a disappointing end Sunday afternoon, when they lost to Temple 71-64. Earlier they won over Rutgers Friday night 77-65, in a game delayed a day by inclement weather. The split of the two games brought the SMU’s season record to 20-6, their first time to win at least 20 games in a season since the 1999-2000 season and the 10th time in SMU history. Sunday’s loss dropped their conference record to 9-4.
20 wins was once the mark of a really great season for a college basketball team. Certainly before the 70′s, most teams played only two dozen games or so, such that 20 was much more of an accomplishment than it is in the 21st century. However, it is still a treasured win level even with teams routinely playing close to 35 games annually. Besting the school record of 28 wins this season, which was accomplished in the 1987-88 season, is a long shot; but still possible with five conference games, the conference tournament and a likely post season tournament still to be played.
On Friday night, the Mustangs led Rutgers virtually the entire game. The Scarlet Knights led by one at 3-2, and never led again. They did keep the game close SMU led by seven at the half, but Rutgers came back to close to within one point twice; the last time at the 14:19 mark. From there, the Mustangs pulled away taking a 10 point lead at 52-42, and leading by 10 or more over the final 2:44 of the game.
The starting guards, Nic Moore and Nick Russell, did the heavy scoring. They tallied 21 and 16 respectively to lead the Mustangs. Cannen Cunningham came off the SMU bench when Markus Kennedy got into foul trouble early in the game to lead the Mustangs with eight rebounds and be the third Mustang in double digits with 10 points.
Sunday’s game started well for SMU as they raced out to an 11-2 lead. Temple didn’t fold though. They rallied back to take a one point lead at the 4:21 mark, and actually took a four point lead (34-30) to the halftime locker room.
Most coaches say the first five minutes of the second half is the most critical time of a game, and the second half started well for the Ponies. In slightly more than four minutes, they outscored the Owls 13-5 to turn the four point deficit into a four point lead. Unfortunately, the 43-39 lead turned out to be the Mustangs’ largest of the second half. Nick Russell’s steal and Markus Kennedy’s layup put the Ponies on top 48-47 with 12:04 left in regulation. That proved to be SMU’s last lead of the game.
The Mustangs had their chances for sure, but simply did not execute down the stretch. At one point in the last four minutes, the Mustangs missed seven straight free throws. There was one ugly shot, and a couple of point-blank misses. This game was very winnable at the end. SMU simply did not get the job done.
The Mustangs were out rebounded by a wide margin – 38-25. SMU had just four offensive rebounds, all in the second half. Temple played just seven players, and the pair off the bench tallied just three points. Three Owls sat out a total of four minutes, and just 31 of Temple’s 200 game minutes were played by the bench. Three Temple players ended the game with four fouls, and three more ended with three. The Mustangs just didn’t turn Temple’s short bench and foul troubles into a win.
Three Mustangs scored in double digits, led by Markus Kennedy playing in his home town with 18 points. Guards Nic Moore and Nick Russell added 15 and 10. Kennedy, Shawn Williams and Ryan Manuel led the Ponies’ rebounding effort with five apiece.
The American Athletic Conference looks good to place five teams in the NCAA Tournament. The top five (Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut in addition to SMU) are all ranked this week in the AP Top 25. SMU’s RPI was 39 at the start of the week, and all five teams were ranked in the top 40.
Rick Pitino was asked about SMU Sunday morning on Mike Lupica’s ESPN radio show. He pointed out that the Mustangs are ranked very highly in both offense and defense. The Ponies are leading the AAC and are second in the nation in opponent’s shooting percentage at 36.9% going into play Sunday. Offensively, SMU leads the conference in field goal percentage at 49.5%, which ranks seventh nationally.
The Mustangs are now 6-2 (3-0 at home and 3-2 on the road) against the five teams that aren’t in the running for a post season tournament invite. The remaining two games against the bottom five teams are scheduled for Moody Coliseum beginning this Wednesday against Houston. Game time is 7:00 PM (Central), and the game will be televised on ESPN News. The Houston and Central Florida (March 1) games are certainly must wins for the Ponies to realize even a modicum of their elevated hopes for this season.
* The final three home games are official sellouts already, bringing the total number of sellouts to seven in 10 Moody Coliseum games. On the StubHub.com site, tickets are available from $40 – $552 per ticket for this Wednesday’s game against UH.
* Larry Brown is scheduled to appear on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show on Monday morning. It can be heard from 9:00 – Noon locally in Dallas on KESN, 103.3 FM, and it can be seen on ESPNU.