BY: Richard W. Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Week three of the Men’s AP basketball poll came out Monday, and the SMU Mustangs were finally in at number 25. They were knocking on the door a week ago after their opening game rout of Sam Houston State coming in effectively at number 26 – they were the team receiving the most votes among those that did not make the Top 25. Over the past week, the Mustangs ran their record to 3-0 with wins over Stanford on the road and Yale at home.
SMU is the third team from the American Athletic Conference to crack the Top 25. Cincinnati is 24th and Connecticut is 18th this week. Tulsa is also getting votes after their shocking upset of number nine Wichita State. SMU was in the AP Top 25 for nine weeks last season including the final seven and for four weeks the season before. In addition to eight games against those four conference opponents, the Mustangs also have a non-conference games against number 10 Gonzaga on their schedule.
Sunday’s game against Yale was a tight one. The Bulldogs also received votes in the AP poll last week, and they were very good. They played an excellent first half, ran their lead to as many as 10 points in the second half, and led in the game for more than 26 minutes. Guard Makai Mason, who shot 50% from the field and made seven of 11 free throws, was the hot hand for Yale. He scored 16 of his team’s first 40 points as they built the halftime lead. He hit three shots from beyond the arc and finished with a game high 24 points.
The Mustangs have proven to be a high scoring offensive outfit, as they are averaging 80.3 points per game so far this year. At least four players have scored in double digits in each game, and seven different players have hit double digits in at least one game. It was their defense that turned the Yale game around though.
Associate head coach Tim Jankovich said after the game that they decided at halftime to increase pressure on the ball with double teams and traps. It worked. The Mustangs got some easy baskets that got them back in the game. They tied the game at 49 and took the lead at 53-51. It was a lead they never relinquished, though the Bulldogs didn’t go away easily.
Sterling Brown was the offensive force that got the Mustangs going. “Sterling got very aggressive. That just kind of got us on a roll. Talk about a big lift,” Associate head coach Tim Jankovich said.
Later, it was Jordan Tolbert that carried the offensive load in a breakout performance for the Texas Tech transfer. The 6′-7″ forward hit two free throws to give the Mustangs their initial second half lead. He scored 14 points after intermission and led SMU for the game with 17.
The Mustangs pushed the lead to seven points, their largest of the game as the clock wound past the 1:00 minute mark. That’s usually good enough for a win, but two Mustangs missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity to open the door for the Bulldogs to get back in it. The scrappy Yale team scored eight points in the last minute before the clock finally ran out with SMU winning by just two.
This win came on the heels of the Mustangs first road game of the year last Thursday against Stanford. SMU played well early, but the shots just didn’t fall. They played more than 10 minutes before they took control of the game. SMU ran their first half lead to 10 points after the shots started to fall before settling for a seven point margin at halftime. The Mustangs especially took care of the ball. They had just two turnovers compared to 10 for the Cardinal
In the second half, they came out smoking and pushed the lead to 20 points at 58-38 in the first six plus minutes. They actually were a bit sloppy over the final 13 minutes, but they cruised in for an 85-70 15 point win. Road wins are always good in college basketball.
SMU’s next game is this Sunday afternoon at 2:00. They play the Brown Bears in Moody Coliseum. The most notable player on the Brown team is their junior guard Steven Spieth, the brother of professional golfer Jordan Spieth.
* The SMU Men’s soccer team beat Denver 1-0 Sunday afternoon to advance to the “Sweet 16″ of the NCAA Tournament. They next play Akron in Akron, Ohio on Sunday, November 29 at 4:00 PM Eastern (3:00 PM Central).
* Alicia Froling made the American Athletic Conference Weekly Honor roll after averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds in two home games for SMU’s Women’s basketball team last week. The native of Australia had her second double-double of the season when she scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against TCU.