Boost Before the Break
SMU Thumps Grambling State As Attention Turns To Final Exams
DALLAS – SMU moved its record to 5-4 on Saturday with a solid 71-51 win over Grambling State. Robert Nyakundi and Papa Dia carried the offense for the Mustangs, combining for 44 points.
“It was certainly fun to win,” said SMU coach Matt Doherty. “I was very proud of our guys’ defensive effort.” The Mustangs held the Tigers to 27-percent shooting from 3-point range, 38-percent overall.
Doherty also credited the Mustangs’ patient offense. SMU shot 61-percent from the field and 55-percent from three-point range. Dia hit 10 of 15 shots for 20 points. Nyakundi connected on 7-of-8 shots, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc, for a game-high 22 points.
Nyakundi also showed an added bonus.
“I can’t believe [Nyakundi] had six assists, one turnover,” Doherty said. “He must have somebody at the [stat] table he’s friendly with because I’ve never seen him get six assists before. But he was really doing a good job of feeding Pop.”
Doherty said 15 shots for Dia is a good shooting mix for this team. “We want Pop to touch the ball inside more than anybody because if he doesn’t get a good shot, he’s such a good passer and unselfish out of the post.”
Justin Haynes had a game-high six boards for SMU, including five on the defensive end.
Said Doherty, “A couple of things we need to work on: we had 19 turnovers and that’s not typical for us. And our zone offense needs to get brushed up a little a bit.”
“They are a good team,” said Grambling coach Bobby Washington of the Mustangs. “They can definitely shoot the bejeezus out of the basketball. I think they’ll do formidable in Conference USA.”
“We’ve been running our offense pretty well,” Washington said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge with the match-up zone that they play. … We kept telling our guys it’s about ball movement and cutting. And those are two things that we did not do tonight.”
SMU now has two-weeks off for finals before resuming play on December 18 at McMurry in Abilene, Tex.
Doherty tweaked his starting lineup for Grambling, inserting Ryan Harp for freshman point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas.
“I didn’t feel like we were getting the defense we needed,” Doherty said. “Justin and Ryan are two of our best defenders, so I wanted a little more size to contest the three-point line and a little more patience on offense. … I think it was a good learning experience for Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s defense and decision-making weren’t great at Louisiana Tech.” (SMU lost, 69-64.)
No Grambling player scored in double digits. Senior Donald Qualls led the Tigers with nine points. SMU outrebounded Grambling, 29-23 and the Mustangs led, 40-23, at halftime.
The Tigers had no answer for Dia. “Really,” Washington said, “I do think he’s got a shot to play overseas. I don’t know about the NBA yet. But I know sometimes, as a player, when you play against what you feel is lesser competition, sometimes you don’t bring you’re A-game. With his A-game, he got 20 points, three rebounds tonight.”
“He’s got to learn a few more moves around the basket, but I think he’s got the energy. … The sky’s the limit for him.”
“It was a great effort against a scary team,” Doherty concluded. “[Grambling] had Vanderbilt on the ropes at halftime. They had UNT on the ropes two nights ago. They can really get it going and they don’t quit.”
The Tigers’ schedule, which has also included Baylor, Rice and Arkansas, doesn’t get any easier with road trips to Auburn and Nebraska on deck.
Said Washington, “When you have to play those teams and those guys, a David-and-Goliath scenario, at least 11 times before we go to conference play, it’s tough. … We just have to keep pegging away. We know for us, it’s about conference play.”
Doherty said the biggest difference in SMU since opening the season 1-3 is defense. “I think our defensive identity has gotten a lot better since TCU. We slipped a little bit at Louisiana Tech. We’ve gotten it back, hopefully, tonight.”
*Saturday, Dec. 18, at McMurry, 7:30 p.m. Central
*Wednesday, Dec. 22, Alabama St., 7:30 p.m. Central