BASKETBALL IN JULY

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Head basketball coach Larry Brown took the time to meet with media members Monday morning.  He’s just completed a morning workout with his team and is excited about what he is seeing.  The first item of conversation was last week’s startling and disappointing announcement that blue chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay had decided to forego his scholarship at SMU and play professionally overseas this season instead.

“I still believe college would have been the best route,” Brown said.  “They think its the best thing, and I have to respect that.  He was truly great.  He would have been special here.”

There is no question that last year’s team relied too heavily on point guard Nic Moore, who routinely played more than 30 minutes.  As a point guard, Mudiay’s presence would have taken the pressure off the position.  Brown was asked about what the backup point guard situation looks like now.  He indicated that Ryan Manuel is the top candidate currently.

“We have to get Ryan ready, and I’m confident he can do it,” Brown said.

Keith Frazier is also a consideration as he played some at the point in high school.  He also surprising indicated that Ben Moore could figure in the point guard mix.  Moore is 6′-7″ and played forward last year.

“He’s as good a ball handler as we have,” Brown said.

“We’ll figure it out.  One nice thing is that all our bigs can handle the ball.”.

As for the summer workouts in general, he said, “Basically, we’re just trying to teach them how to play.  We break down what we want to do on offense.  The nice thing is that we got a lot of people coming back.  You can really see a difference in the freshmen that have been here. Keith (Frazier), Sterling (Brown) and Ben (Moore).  They’re much more comfortable.  They don’t have to think as much.

He was very positive about Frazier, the first and still only McDonald’s All-American to choose SMU.  “He comes to every workout.  His energy level is way up.  When you have a good attitude and you want to be great and you want to get better, it really makes a difference.”

As you move along in a program, the older guys teach the young guys how to do things.  And then when that happens, it seems like you can add more things.  Defensively, we’re going to try to add more things.  Maybe trap a little bit more, maybe go a bit more full court.  Maybe zone a bit more  For us, it’s playing hard, defending, rebounding and sharing the ball.”

He spoke about his new coach on this year’s staff – Shawn Williams, who started every game last year.  “This is one of the best things for our program and me personally is to have a kid that played for you that wants to be a coach.  I’m thrilled he’s with us.  He’s here early, and he stays late.”     .

He’s impressed with what he’s seen of the conditioning of his team.  “We have to be in great shape to do what we want to do.”

Markus Kennedy was perhaps the team’s best player over the second half of last season.  His improved play was largely attributed to the 50 pounds he lost since his freshman season at Villanova when he weighed in around 300.  He has lost even more weight from the end of the year.

“He’s working hard.  If he’s in great shape, he could be as good a big man as there is around, because he has the skills and knows how to play.  He really seems motivated.  He’s been great at practice.  Works really hard.

If we want to be really good, we have to be in better shape than everybody.   You know we have great depth.  We want to play fast.  When you got a big in that can run and is in great shape,  If we can get him up the court before the defense, he’s hard to guard.  I’m confident he’ll figure it out.”

Another player in the post mix is Yanick Moreira, who started early, but had his season sidetracked with a knee injury.  Moreira was in Dallas for workouts earlier this summer as he attended class in the first session of summer school.  He has now joined the Angola national team.  Brown said the painfully thin Moreira had gained weight and looked much improved.  He was pleased with the competition Moreira will be seeing as part of the Angolian team.

Brown’s summer is as busy basketball-wise as the regular season.  He scuffled through the Atlanta Airport last weekend to watch AAU Basketball in Augusta, Georgia.  That’s the glamorous life of a college basketball coach.  Between summer workouts and recruiting, his basketball plate is full.  He did say he had spent a few days with his family at the beach earlier in the summer.  He also made a trip to Scotland to play golf.

“I’d never been to Scotland,” he said.  He noted that it was chilly with high temperatures in the low 60′s.  ”I was wearing four layers of clothes and was still cold.  You look at the locals, and they’d be in short sleeves.  I was a wuss!”

Brown’s son L. J. is in Dallas for the second session of summer school, so they are once again living together and seeing each other regularly.  He noted his daughter Madison is a junior in high school.

Certainly, the loss of Mudiay is a blow to SMU.  He could help any team in America including the San Antonio Spurs.  However, this team is still loaded with talent.  All the goals that Mustang fans felt were attainable are still within reach.  There’s a lot of hard work going on at the Crum Center these days to make that happen.

MUDIAY BLUES

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Monday turned out to be “blue Monday” in Mustangville when Emmanuel Mudiay announced that he would not be attending SMU this fall.  He has decided to accept a lucrative offer to play professional basketball in Asia, though terms of the offer were not disclosed.

Mudiay was ranked by various recruiting gurus as the second to the fifth best player in the high school class of 2014.  Many experts thought the 6′-5″ point guard would have been drafted among the top 10 selections in this year’s draft had the NBA still allowed the drafting of recent high school graduates.  With a good season at SMU, he could easily have been in the mix to be the number one pick in next year’s NBA draft.  He would have been the second McDonald’s All-American to play at SMU joining sophomore Keith Frazier.

The news began leaking in the twitter, E-mail and text message universes around noon today.  Eventually, Sports Illustrated basketball writer Jeff Borzello posted an article confirming the news on SI.com.

He quoted a statement that Mudiay released to SI.com, saying “I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for coach (Larry) Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA.  But I was tired of seeing my Mom struggle.  After sitting down with coach Brown and my family, we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities.”

There have been rumors that questions have arisen about Mudiay’s eligibility after graduating from Prime Prep Academy in the Dallas area.  There were other questions as to benefits he has received from Under Armor in particular and how that could have affected his amateur status.  Mudiay flatly denied that his decision was based on these concerns.

“This has nothing to do with my eligibility in any way.”

Head coach Larry Brown issued the following statement later in the day:

“Emmanuel Mudiay has decided to pursue professional basketball opportunities.  This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue.  After talking to Emmanuel, I know he really wants to alleviate some of the challenges his family faces and recognizes that he has an opportunity to help them now.  While I believe that college is the best way to prepare for life and the NBA, Emmanuel’s situation is unique.  We were excited about having him at SMU, but we understand this decision and wish him the best.”

For sure, Mudiay is an outstanding player that would have been a tremendous asset to the Mustangs.  It was pretty much a given though that he was a “one-and-done” player; that he would have made himself available for the 2015 NBA draft.

On the other hand, if the questions about his amateurism and eligibility accelerated, he could have created a cloud over the program that would have deterred from the other players’ focus.  This team is loaded with talent.  With or without Mudiay, head coach Larry Brown will have even more problems finding playing time for all the deserving players in his stable than he did last year.  There is no reason this team can not still be ranked in the Top 25 throughout the season and have a legitimate chance to win the National Championship.

BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU announced the non-conference portion of the men’s basketball schedule this week.  There was criticism of SMU’s schedule last year when the Mustangs were considered for the NCAA Tournament.  Hopefully, this schedule will be a step forward in answering those criticisms next March.  The highlights of the non-conference schedule are games at Michigan, Indiana and Gonzaga, as well as home contests against Arkansas and Wyoming.

“Our non-conference and conference schedule will give us a chance to play great teams in great environments at home and on the road,” Head Coach Larry Brown said.  “There are a lot of incredible opportunities in front of us.”

SMU is looking to add one or two games to the non-conference schedule, which opens on November 14 at home against Lamar.  That is followed by a Monday, November 17 game at Gonzaga which will be part of ESPN’s 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon.  The Arkansas and Wyoming games are scheduled for November 25 and December 5 respectively.

Missing from this year’s schedule is TCU.  The schools were unable to find a workable date, but the series is expected to resume in the 2015-16 season.

The complete list of games announced this week are:

Friday, November 14         Lamar

Monday, November 17      at Gonzaga

Thursday, November 20     at Indiana

Saturday, November 22      Eastern Washington

Tuesday, November 25       Arkansas

Wednesday, November 26  Texas Southern

Sunday, November 30         Monmouth

Friday, December 5             Wyoming

Monday, December 8           UC Santa Barbara

Wednesday, December 17    Illinois-Chicago

Saturday, December 20        at Michigan

JUSTIN MARTIN

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Justin Martin, a 6′-6″, 205 pound forward from Xavier announced on his Twitter page Tuesday night that he plans to transfer to SMU.  He has one year of eligibility remaining after playing three seasons at Xavier.  He has graduated, so he will be eligible to play immediately.  He averaged 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season and finished the season as Xavier’s second leading scorer.  He tallied in double digits in 18 games and scored 50 3-point baskets.

Martin is the cousin of former NBA player Maurice Evans (Washington Wizards).  He also considered Florida State and West Virginia.  A significant factor in his decision was that the Mustangs will be the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference and are expected to be ranked in the Top 10 when next season begins.

JUNE UPDATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

It’s hard to believe that two months have passed since the Mustangs’ basketball season came to a disappointing end in Madison Square Garden.  Despite the loss in the NIT Finals to Minnesota, it was still a marvelous season that evokes warm feelings just thinking about the games, especially the ones in Moody Coliseum.  The confluence of the essentially new arena, so marvelously done mixed with the really quality basketball played on the court and the high profile spectators made for a moment that may never be fully recaptured.

However, the Mustang Club’s plea for donations and the SMU Athletic office’s renewal notices for basketball tickets have arrived reminding that it’s time to move on to next year.  The Mustang Club donation required for my two tickets remained the same, and the cost of the tickets increased $200.  There are 18 instead of 16 home games this year, and all of them are scheduled to be played in Moody Coliseum, not just 10 like last year.

The schedule hasn’t been officially announced, but there are some hints.  Last year, there were 10 teams in the conference for basketball; and conference play consisted of 18 games, two against each of the other nine teams.  With the continuing shift of conference alignments, there will be 11 teams in the AAC for basketball.  There will again be 18 conference games on the schedule, but some opponents will be played just once.

SMU’s home opponents were announced last week.  They include the four teams that participated in the NCAA Tournament this past season – Connecticut, the reigning National Champion, Cincinnati, Memphis and Tulsa, one of the new teams to the conference.  The other five will be Houston, Temple, Central Florida, South Florida, and another newcomer – East Carolina.

The road portion of the schedule will include all of those teams except East Carolina.  The Mustangs play East Carolina just the one time at home and will play a third newcomer, Tulane, just one time on the road.

The AAC also announced that the post season conference tournament will be played March 12-15 at the XL Center (formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center) in Hartford Connecticut.

SMU was criticized for having a soft non-conference schedule last year.  The Mustangs have taken steps to correct that as they will play Michigan on December 20 in Ann Arbor.  Michigan will play the Mustangs in Dallas the following year.  Also, a two year deal with Gonzaga has been signed.  The Mustangs will play in Washington on November 17 as part of ESPN’s Tipoff Marathon.  Gonzaga will also play the Mustangs in Dallas in 2015.

RECRUITING:  The Mustangs had three scholarships available this year - two from graduating seniors Shawn Williams and Nick Russell and a third from Jaylon Jones transferring to Texas A&M.  Emmanuel Mudiay signed last fall on the early signing date.  He is a 6′-5″ point guard, the second MacDonald’s All American to sign with SMU.  He is rated as the best point guard and ranked anywhere from the second to the fifth best player in this year’s high school class.  He will definitely ease the playing time load on Nic Moore.

The Mustangs also signed Jordan Tolbert this spring, a transfer from Texas Tech.  Tolbert is a 6′-7″ forward that has averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in three years at Tech.  He may or may not have to sit out this season and will have one year of eligibility remaining.

The Mustangs still have one available scholarship.

FOOTBALL:  The NFL draft weekend was a proud one for Mustang fans.  Defensive back Kenneth Acker was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the fourth pick in the sixth round (180th overall).  He was named to the All-Conference team in each of his last two years and had three interceptions in each of those seasons.

Shortly thereafter, SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the sixth round with the 214th overall pick.  Gilbert was injured in the first half of the South Florida game and missed the final two games of the 2013 season.  Despite missing the last 10 quarters of the season, he finished second in the nation in total offense at 379.5 yards per game and fourth nationally at 352.8 passing yards per game.

Acker and Gilbert became the ninth and 10th Mustangs to be drafted in the past six years.  They join Margus Hunt taken by Cincinnati in 2013, three players taken by Washington – Aldrick Robinson (2011), Josh LeRibeus and Richard Crawford in 2012 – Taylor Thompson taken in 2012 by Tennessee, two players taken by Pittsburgh – Emmanuel Sanders (2010) now with Denver and Kelvin Beachum (2012) – and New Orleans took Thomas Morstead (2009).

FOOTBALL RECRUITING:  The Mustang football program received a boost with the addition of two recently announced transfers - quarterback Matt Davis from Tyler Junior College and linebacker Cameron Nwosu from Rice.

Davis was rated as a four star prospect coming out of Klein Forest High School.  He signed with Texas A&M and was redshirted in his only season there.  He then transferred to Tyler Junior College, where he played seven games last fall.  He will have three years of eligibility.

Head Coach June Jones named sophomore Neal Burcham the starting quarterback coming out of spring training, but Davis is expected to be in the mix and could become the starting quarterback this fall.

Nwosu has completed his undergraduate degree at Rice and will be eligible immediately.  He has one year of eligibility remaining as he sat out the 2013 while rehabilitating an knee injury.

 

 

IT’S OVER

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU ‘s magical basketball season came to a disappointing end Thursday night in New York with a 65-63 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  SMU took a seven point lead with 5:52 left in the game on a Markus Kennedy dunk.  It was the largest lead of the game for either team, but the Mustangs could not finish the deal.  There were too many empty possessions and too many missed free throws in the final minutes; opening the door for Minnesota’s come back.

It was a nip and tuck game throughout.  Minnesota’s largest lead was six points in the first half.  The game was tied 14 times and there were 17 lead changes.  The Mustangs trailed by three at the half, 30-27.

Thursday’s game, the team’s record setting 37th of the season, was the last game of the season win or lose.  Unfortunately, the Mustangs did not bring the NIT championship trophy home.  SMU finishes the year 27-10 having played the first two games in the month of April in the history of the school.

Kennedy and guard Nic Moore were named to the All Tournament team.  Minnesota placed Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu on the All Tournament team also.  Hollins’ brother Austin was named as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

Nic Moore led the Mustangs with 17 points and seven assists.  Other double digit scorers were Nick Russell with 15, Shawn Williams with 11, and Kennedy with 10.  Kennedy was the leading rebounder in the game with eight.  It was the ninth time this year that the Mustangs had four players score in double digits.

It was also the last game in a Mustang uniform for Williams and Russell, the two seniors on this ball club.  Both started 36 of the 37 games this season, the exception being the Illinois-Chicago game that had a starting lineup which included all four players from the greater Chicago area.  Williams and Russell are from Duncanville and have known each other since childhood.  Both started their college careers elsewhere – Williams at Texas and Russell at Kansas State - before transferring to SMU when Matt Doherty was the head coach.

The second place NIT finish caps an outstanding break through season for the Ponies, though the players did not agree.  Channel 11′s Jane Slater reported after the game that the SMU locker room was the ”toughest” she’s ever seen.  The mere fact that Channel 11 felt the Mustang story was newsworthy enough to send her to New York says worlds about the progress of Mustang basketball this season.

The future is more than bright for the Ponies on the hard court.  10 of the 13 Moody Coliseum games were sellouts, and season tickets now account for more than half the arena’s capacity.

Among the 11 players that made up the playing rotation, all but Williams and Russell are expected to return next season.  Hopefully, a year older and a year wiser.  High school senior Emmanuel Mudiay has signed.  He is a McDonald’s All-American, the second along with Keith Frazier, to ever attend SMU.  The 6′-5″ guard is ranked anywhere from the second to fifth best high school senior in the country.

The Mustangs have two remaining scholarships.  It has been reported that Jordan Tolbert, a 6′-7″ forward at Texas Tech that is from Fort Worth, will transfer to SMU to claim one of those scholarships.

Certainly an even better season is expected next year.  The USA Today published an article this week with a REALLY EARLY prediction of next year’s Final Four.  One of the four was SMU.  Scott Gleeson wrote:  “This year’s biggest NCAA tournament snub will be a sleeper Final Four team next season in Larry Brown’s third year.  The Mustangs bring back virtually their entire roster – which included Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore – but most important will welcome a high-caliber point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay.  SMU wasn’t expected to be that good this season, so the NCAA tournament omission is deceiving.  In 2014-15, however, the expectations should be much, much higher.  Come March, this NIT runner-up team should be scary good.”

It’s been almost two years since that beautiful April day in 2012 when fans, students, media and other interested parties gathered outside the west entrance of Moody Coliseum.  It was the occasion at which then Athletic Director Steve Orsini announced the hiring of Larry Brown as the new head basketball coach at SMU.  When Brown stepped to the podium, he promptly won over the SMU crowd with his remarks.  After two seasons, Mustang fans have come to realize what a wonderful day that was for the Mustang nation.

 

 

NIT FINALS, NO FOOLING

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

It’s not an April Fools’ joke.  SMU’s basketball team will play in the NIT finals Thursday night against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who beat Florida State by three points in overtime in the other semifinal game.  The Mustangs trailed most of the night Tuesday against Clemson, taking their first lead with just 5:09 left in the game.   The Tigers had played almost a perfect first half to take a 12 point lead to the locker room; but SMU came back to take a 65-59 win.  Clemson finishes with a 21-13 record.  SMU’s record improved to 27-9.

Clemson scored the first seven points of the game and pushed the lead to 12 at the half at 38-26.  They shot 56% from the field, including 6-9 on three pointers.  Shortly after the second half began, they claimed their biggest lead at 41-28.  From that point, SMU outscored the Tigers 37-18.  It was clearly a defensive led comeback, the largest of the season for the Ponies and the largest for any Mustang team since a 13 point comeback in 2003 against East Carolina when both were in Conference-USA.

Markus Kennedy was the player of the game as he led all scorers and all rebounders with 21 points and nine boards.  Guards Nic Moore and Nick Russell were the other two Mustangs with a double digit point total.  Moore had 13 and Russell scored 10.  Nic Moore and Sterling Brown each had four assists to lead the Ponies.

Clemson had four double digit scorers.  Rod Hall led the Tigers with 18, followed by K. J. McDaniels with 11 and 10 points each for Landry Nnoko and Damarcus Harrison.  McDaniels was the Tigers’ leading rebounder with seven.

The Mustangs shot 47% and held Clemson to 40% from the field.  They shot 59.1% in the second half to Clemson’s 24% to overcome the 12 point halftime deficit.

Brown was asked on post game radio what he said to the team at halftime.  ”I was a little angry.  I didn’t think we played nearly as hard as they did.  If we played hard, we can get back in the game.”

He was particularly pleased with the second half.  “That’s the best half we’ve played all year.  We took better care of the ball.  We just did some really good things.  When you hold an ACC team to 21 points, that’s really significant.”

He was also in awe of the number of SMU fans that had trekked to New York for the game.  “What a crowd!  God, that makes me happy.”

Thursday night’s game will start at 6:00 PM (CDT).  A win would tie the Mustangs’ win total for a season.  Already, this team has played more games -36 – than in any previous season of SMU basketball.  Most of all though, the win would give the Mustangs the NIT championship.  No fooling.

NOTABLE:

*     Tuesday’s game was the first ever for SMU in the month of April.

*     SMU is now 1-1 against Clemson and 1-1 in Madison Square Garden.

*     SMU has trailed by at least eight points in all four NIT games.

*     With four blocked shots Tuesday, the season total is 162, the school record.

 

 

A CHANCE FOR THREE TITLES

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU and Clemson will be meeting for just the second time in the schools’ history Tuesday night.  Clemson won the first encounter 67-51 in the 1970 Music City Classic played in Nashville.  The Tigers are playing in Madison Square Garden in the NIT for the fourth time and have a 2-3 record in their three previous appearances.  They lost in the first round in 1975 to Providence when the entire tournament was played in Madison Square Garden.  More recently they won their semifinal game, but lost in the finals in 1999 and 2007.  In 1999, the Tigers beat Xavier and lost to Cal by one point in the finals.  In 2007, they beat Air Force, but lost in the finals to West Virginia by five.

SMU and Clemson faced three common opponents this season.  Both lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville.  Both lost to Virginia.  Clemson beat Temple, while the Mustangs split with the Owls, winning in Moody Coliseum, but losing in Philadelphia.

Clemson is the only number one seed that didn’t reach the NIT Final Four.  Their best player is K. J. McDaniels, and he thinks the teams have a lot in common.  “I know they’re (SMU) the same as us.  They’re a great rebounding team.  They’re a great passing team.  A great fundamental team under coach Brown.  Once we found out we were in the NIT, we knew we had to get re-focused and take this opportunity and do great things.  We’re fortunate to be here.  We definitely all appreciate being invited here.”

SMU coach Larry Brown was excited about being in the Final Four.  “Well it’s great.  Half my team has never been in New York, so that in itself is huge.  And then, I know what the Garden means.  I grew up watching the Globetrotters, the Holiday Festival and the NIT when it was probably bigger than the NCAA.  Being a pro coach, I’ve never walked into the Garden where I wasn’t in awe and didn’t feel blessed.  I hope my players feel the same way.”

Brown spoke about not making the NCAA Tournament, “Fran (Fraschilla) spoke to our team two weeks ago after we didn’t make the NCAA’s.  He made them all feel like they were special having this chance.  It was a let down, but we have nobody to blame but ourselves.  I’m sure all four teams here probably were hopeful they’d get into the NCAA.  It’s worked out great.  We’re one of eight teams still playing.  Four are playing for the NCAA Championship.  We’re playing for the NIT Championship.”

Brown showed the pride in the American Athletic Conference when he said, “Now I’m rooting like crazy for Connecticut.”

He continued, “Two weeks ago on Sunday, I think we all felt kind of down when we didn’t get selected for the NCAA Tournament.  68 great teams got selected.  We had a hard time in our locker room building our kids up.  I look at this as a great honor and privilege.  I’m thrilled for our program to be able to play in Madison Square Garden.  I don’t think it gets any better than that.  We’re pretty blessed to be in this environment.  I’m happy for our kids.  I’m happy for our program.  And I’m thankful for the NCAA to put on such a great event.”

Fraschilla noted that Brown is the only coach in the history of the game to win an NCAA title and a NBA title.  Now he has the opportunity to add an NIT title to make it three big wins.  “He’s done an incredible job of transforming SMU basketball.  I can’t even put into words what he’s meant for the SMU community and the Dallas community as well.”

Two more wins in New York will tie the SMU record for wins in a season and make this marvelous season of SMU basketball, even more marvelous.

OFF TO NEW YORK!

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The Mustangs practice early Sunday then fly to New York for Tuesday’s NIT semifinal game against Clemson.  They played a remarkable second half against LSU to advance to the third round, then pulled out a last minute win over California-Berkeley with the winning basket, a Nic Moore three-pointer with less than six seconds remaining.  It was clearly the most dramatic game in the short history of the newly renovated Moody Coliseum.

California arrived with a host of injuries, playing essentially seven players in the game.  They are extremely well coached though and shot the ball well.  They have been mainly a man defensive team this season, but played a 2-3 zone for most of this game.  Zone defenses have been troublesome this season for the Mustangs, and Cal’s zone was no exception.

The Golden Bears scored first and ran out to as much as a nine point lead in the first half.  The Mustangs closed the half strong though on a 17-5 run to erase a nine point deficit and take a three point lead to the locker room.

Keith Frazier led the charge.  He scored eight of the seventeen points on a pair of three point shots and a pull up jumper from the wing.  Frazier has been slow to adjust to the college game, but the MacDonald’s High School All-American is playing his best basketball at season’s end.  His shooting percentage from beyond the three point arc is now over 40%, and in a true sign of respect, Cal switched to man-for-man defense when Frazier played in the second half.

The Mustangs scored the first two baskets after halftime to run the lead to seven points.  Cal Coach Mike Montgomery was forced to call a time out less than a minute into the half to halt the SMU charge.  The Ponies looked poised to take charge of the game, but it didn’t happen.  Seven points proved to be SMU’s biggest lead of the game.

Cal fought back to take the lead with 8:26 remaining in the game, breaking a tie at 50 with a Jabari Bird layup.  The Ponies tied the game three times from that point, but never led again until 36 seconds remained in the game when Nick Russell made a twisting layup to give SMU a 64-62 lead.  The lead lasted just 21 seconds though, as Cal’s Justin Cobbs eased in a three point shot to reclaim the lead for the Bears.  Cobbs is an outstanding player that is a finalist for the 2014 Bob Cousy Point Guard Award.

That set the stage for Moore’s game winning shot.  It was a set play that Brown says they practice every day, but had used perhaps just once in a game.  Markus Kennedy set an inside screen to free up Moore breaking to the outside.  Moore never hesitated when he received the pass knocking down the three pointer to give SMU a two point lead.  Cobbs got another shot to win it for Cal, but it hit the rim and bounced away as time ran out.

It was a marvelous game with fans flooding the floor after the final buzzer.

As for Tuesday in the NIT semifinal game, Clemson’s K. J. McDaniels is the biggest problem facing the Mustangs.  He leads the team in points scored, rebounds and blocked shots.  And he was the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.  ”He’s a great player.  I think he’ll play in the NBA and be a great player,” SMU coach Larry Brown said Saturday.  “He does everything.  That’s the reason they’re (Clemson) such a great defensive team.”

Ryan Manuel said about the game, “They’re pretty strong defensively.  I think it’ll be a slugfest.”

Manuel is one of about half a dozen players that has never been to Manhattan.  The team played at Hofstra last year, but went straight to Long Island once they landed at LaGuardia, staying at a hotel near the Nassau Coliseum.  “I’m looking forward to the atmosphere,” he said.

As for the Mustangs, Manuel noted the accomplishment of winning three games to be one of the final four teams remaining in the tournament.  “We’ve reached part of our goal when we made it to New York.  We still have unfinished business to do.”

Brown knows Clemson will be a test.  “They are athletic.  They are long.  They play man (defense) and they play it well.  They play hard.”

Certainly Brown is the veteran of so many wars having won both an NCAA and NBA Championship, but he’s especially proud of this team for winning three NIT games.  “It’s a terrific accomplishment.  I want them to be excited to play in the Garden.”

While the NIT run has provided magic moments at Moody and the chance for fans to see three more games, Brown would have preferred to be in the NCAA Tournament.  “That was our goal, and we didn’t reach it.”

He is happy for seniors Shawn Williams and Nick Russell.  Senior night was the Louisville game, the only game the Mustangs lost at home this year.  Without the NIT bid, it would have been the final home game for Williams and Russell, both of whom are from Duncanville and have been friends from a young age.  The NIT afforded the opportunity to win their final home game.

It’s a great win that sends them to New York to play in the Mecca of basketball – Madison Square Garden.  All in all, it’s a pretty nice consolation prize for not making the NCAA Tournament.

NOTABLE:

*     Clemson was the three seed in the St. John’s region.  St. John’s was the only one seed that did not reach the final four.

*     Tuesday’s game begins at 6:00 PM (CDT) and will be televised on ESPN2.

*     Minnesota plays Florida State in the other semifinal game Tuesday.  Tuesday’s winners will play Thursday in the finals.  As of last year, the NIT no longer has a third place game for the teams that lose in the semifinals.

 

BRING ON LSU

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU beat the University of California-Irvine Anteaters Wednesday night 68-54 in Moody Coliseum in first round NIT action.  The win improved the Mustangs record to 24-9 making this year’s win total the fourth highest in school history.  LSU, the five seed in the SMU region, beat four seed San Francisco later that evening and will face the Mustangs Monday in Dallas in second round action.

Head coach Larry Brown said afterward that failing to get invited to the NCAA Tournament was a difficult pill to swallow.  “This has been my hardest week.  The kids were really down.  That troubled me.”  He particularly noted that seniors Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were especially bummed as they won’t have the chance to get into the tournament next year.

The team kicked away the disappointment though to take the win in a tough game Wednesday.  The 14 point margin of victory belies the difficulty of the game.  Irvine has a 7′-6″ center – Mamadou Ndiaye from Senegal.  The Anteaters utilized a two-three zone for most of the game with Ndiaye in the middle under the basket.  It definitely presented problems for the Mustangs, who have relied all season on inside scoring.

Centers Cannen Cunningham and Markus Kennedy drew the assignment of banging against Ndiaye.  Cunningham freely admitted it was a task.  “You can’t practice for 7′-6″.  He was intimidating at times, but we just found a way around it.”

The Anteaters scored the first seven points of the game and led for all but 25 seconds of the first half.  They were definitely hot from the field shooting 52.2% and held as much as an eight point lead.  SMU closed fast though to cut the halftime margin to one point at 30-29, despite shooting less than 30% in the half.

The Anteaters scored the first five points of the second half, at which point the Mustangs took charge of the game.  The Ponies put together an 11-0 run over a 2:18 span that turned that six point deficit into a five point lead at 40-35.  SMU never trailed again.

SMU’s two highest scorers were Cunningham with 17 points and Ben Moore with 11.  Both came off the bench.  Point guard Nic Moore was the other Mustang in double digits with 10 points.  He also had a game high eight assists.

The team seems to have gotten beyond the NCAA snub.  Brown said he had received conciliatory phone calls from Buzz Peterson and Todd Boyle, who coached teams that also received flagrant snubs from the NCAA at Tennessee and Colorado.  Also, University Park resident and ESPN commentator Fran Frascilla spoke to the team this week.  “He gave the kids some insight how important it is,” Brown said.

Brown is a native New Yorker and remembers the days when the NIT was perhaps the more prestigious post season tournament.  He was philosophical about the situation.  “We have an opportunity to play in a great tournament.  It’s good for our program.”

The Mustangs are the number one seed in the tournament.  They have a great chance to win it all.  By virtue of being the number one seed, they have earned the right to play the next two games at Moody Coliseum if they beat LSU.  Winning both will earn a trip to New York and provide the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden.

With Wednesday’s win, the Mustangs are 16-1 at home this year, including 10 wins at Moody Coliseum.  Defending National Champion Louisville is the only team to beat the Mustangs in University Park this year.

The UC-Irvine game drew a crowd of 5,033, which is remarkable when you consider that those tickets were sold in a period of less than 72 hours after receiving the NIT invitation.  ”I was amazed at the crowd,” Brown said.

Game two against LSU sold out early Friday morning.  It will be televised on ESPN with an 8:00 PM (CDT) start time.  If the Mustangs win, they play again next Wednesday at Moody against the winner of Arkansas and California.

NOTABLE:

*     On Thursday, Larry Brown was named to be one of five finalists for the 2014 Naismith Coach of the Year Award, which is presented by the Atlanta Sports Council.  Brown won the award in 1988 as the head coach of Kansas.  The other four finalists are John Beilein (Michigan), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Billy Donovan (Florida) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State).

*     Wednesday’s win was SMU’s first ever in the NIT Tournament.  They had lost first round games in their two previous NIT appearances.