BY: Richard W. Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – There is no question that there are great expectations for this year’s SMU Men’s basketball team, and Friday night, the season got off to a great start with a 93-54 win over the out-manned Lamar Cardinals. SMU led this one wire to wire, taking a 10 point lead in less than seven minutes and extending it to more than 20 at the half at 46-20. The largest SMU lead was 43 with four minutes left in the game.
SMU did the scoring damage with three big men. The Mustangs outscored the Cardinals 46-14 in the paint as Ben Moore, Yanick Moreira, and Cannen Cunningham combined to score 56 points on 22-27 shooting (81.5%). Moore led all scorers with 22 points, while Moreira and Cunningham added 19 and 15 respectively. Moore led the Mustangs with a game high nine rebounds, as he fell one rebound short of recording a double-double, and a game high five assists. Guard Nic Moore also had five assists.
Newcomers Ben Emelogu and Justin Martin, transfers from Virginia Tech and Villanova, look to be fitting in nicely with the Mustangs’ system. Emelogu started and scored eight points. He also had three steals, a third of SMU’s total for the game. Martin has been dealing with an injury which limited him to 10 minutes of play, but he scored eight points on 3-3 shooting, including one three pointer.
One Mustang thought to be a key to this season is Keith Frazier. Frazier was a McDonald’s High School All-American at Dallas Kimball and was ranked as one of the top 20 players in the country coming out of high school. He made his first college start Friday night and tied his career scoring high with 11 points on 3-6 shooting. That included 2-4 beyond the three point arc.
Point guard Nic Moore, an All Conference performer last season, played a solid game scoring six points with five assists and a steal in 29 minutes. Moore averaged 32 minutes per game last year, but the addition of Emelogu is expected to enable SMU to play Moore less and keep him fresher. It was a quiet game by Moore’s normal standards, but Larry Brown said about him, “I thought he played great. We just won by 40. He’s trying to do the right thing. He’s done really well in practice. We need to have other people help us. He’ll be fine.”
The bad news of the day for SMU was the confirmation of the rumor that had been floating for more than a month that center Markus Kennedy is academically ineligible until at least the end of the first semester. Kennedy was named to second team All-Conference last season and was the Mustangs’ second leading scorer. He will miss key non-conference matchups with Gonzaga, Indiana and Arkansas, though he if he regains his eligibility this season, he should be back in time for the Michigan game. His absence creates a huge hole for the Ponies, though the center cupboard is not bare. Yanick Moreira was the starting center at the start of last season, while Canned Cunningham was the starting center two years ago.
Head coach Larry Brown shared these thoughts after the game, “I don’t like games like that. That’s a tough game for us cause we’re not prepared for a lot of things we saw. They threw so many different defenses at us. At the end of the day, everybody got to play, which you always love as a coach. I thought our transition defense was really good. For the most part, we took good shots. We took some quick threes, but they were there. But we didn’t rebound like we needed to, and we put them on the line too much. That gives us something to talk about.”
Brown admitted there were some pre-game jitters as the season started. “I think guys were excited. Keith (Frazier) was like a nervous wreck, but he kind of calmed down. Yeah, I think there was a lot of excitement. We got a couple of kids that hadn’t played for us before – Justin (Martin) and Ben (Emelogu). And Justin’s been out. He really hasn’t practiced much at all. But all in all, we have a win at home. We’ve got practice tomorrow and watch some film to get ready to play you know one of the better programs in the country (Gonzaga) in a real difficult place to play against a great team. It’s a little early. We expected to have Emmanuel (Mudiay) and Markus (Kennedy), but we’re just gonna learn from this. I’m anxious to see how we compete. I’m hopeful we’ll be prepared to play.”
“I thought all our big guys offensively were really good. I think we just need to be more concerned about rebounding the ball better.” Brown was especially pleased with the play of the two transfers, “I’m really confident they’re going to be really big contributors for us. They’re both unbelievably great kids. Justin (Martin) has poise. He’s played in two NCAA Tournaments. Ben (Emelogu) is just a great kid who wants to get better. I think their upside is really there, and they’re really going to be important.”
The Mustangs schedule is much tougher next week as they hit the road to play Gonzaga, ranked 13th in both major polls, on Monday night and Indiana on Thursday. Monday’s game is televised in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area on ESPN2 at 10:00 PM (Central). Thursday’s game can be seen on the Big 10 Network. The next home game is next Saturday at 7:00 PM against Eastern Washington.
COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: Buck Showalter, the American League Manager of the Year, and Clayton Kershaw, the National League Cy Young and MVP Awards winner, attended the game. They were there to see Preston Mattingly, Lamar’s 27 year-old point guard, who is the son of Yankee great and Dodger manager Don Mattingly. Mattingly and Kershaw were teammates in the Dodgers’ minor league system. Also seen at the game was actor Ben Baumgarner noted for appearing on the television series “The Office”. Baumgarner is a former SMU student.