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.