Nearly Home Blown
SMU Loses Late Lead, Rebounds To Top Rice In Overtime
DALLAS - Let an owl hang around long enough, they’re gonna crap on something. And, baby, did the Rice Owls nearly do that to SMU on Wednesday night.
With its first eight-win C-USA season and fourth place in the league at stake, SMU blew an eight-point lead in the last 45 seconds of regulation before storming back to beat Rice, 76-66, in overtime.
The Owls, coming off their first-ever win over Memphis, trailed SMU 50-39 with 2:15 left in regulation.
“We’ve got some tough guys and our team’s never quit all year,” said third-year Rice coach Ben Braun. “Our team has battled and our team battled today. … In that overtime, it would have been nice to come out and pull that out, but obviously give SMU credit. They had a little different idea about that.”
It wasn’t so much the Mustangs screwing up late as it was Rice getting hot from beyond the arc.
“They hit some tough shots,” said SMU coach Matt Doherty.
Lucas Kuipers pumped in two 3s in the final minute before Cory Pflieger jacked up a 28-foot prayer that swished, pulling Rice within two, 57-55, with seven ticks left.
It was Pflieger’s only bucket of the night.
Doherty noted two things the Mustangs did poorly late: “We let Kuipers get that jumper at the top of the key, then the inbounds pass from Rob [Nyakundi] to Mike [Walker] went out of bounds and they got the basketball.”
Rice star Arsalan Kazemi then sent the game to OT with two free throws to tie it, 57-57, with two seconds left. Walker’s four straight free throws in the final minute kept SMU from losing in regulation.
Nyakundi led all scorers with 26 points, hitting 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He had a career-high 29 points in SMU’s win at Rice three weeks ago.
Dia collected 20 points and 13 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season. Guards Jeremiah Samarrippas and Walker added 10 points each, with eight of Samarrippas’ coming in OT.
With 9:58 left in regulation, Dia and Nyakundi had 32 of SMU’s 40 points.
Said Braun, “I thought we did a good job in covering their [3-point] shooters. They go 2-19 with the exception of Nyakundi. He goes six and hits four, so that hurt us.”
Tamir Jackson led Rice with 22 points. Kuipers and Connor Frizzelle collected 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Kazemi, Rice’s leading scorer and rebounder, managed just six points after a 21-point, 16-board outing against SMU in Houston. Before Wednesday’s game, Kazemi was C-USA’s only player averaging a double-double.
Kazemi told a fan after the game he hadn’t been feeling well.
“I thought [Kazemi] struggled all night,” Braun said, “never got in his rhythm, missed a couple of easy shots inside, didn’t get to the foul line like he’s capable. … I know he’s been a little bit under the weather, so I’ve got to hope that was part of the reason why he struggled tonight.”
The Mustangs now find themselves in a three-way tie for fourth place in C-USA with Tulsa and UTEP, losers on Wednesday, one game back of Southern Miss, Memphis and UAB.
“This has been pretty darned rewarding for this team and this coaching staff,” Doherty said.
The Mustangs (17-10, 8-5) out-rebounded Rice, 41-25, dominating both ends of the court. “Being out-rebounded, to me, I thought was inexcusable,” Braun said. “We’ve been a good rebounding team all year and we did not get the loose balls.”
Did the Owls (12-15, 4-9) plan differently for Game Two with SMU?
“No, they take 25 3s so our guys have got to know there’s going to be some long rebounds,” Braun said. “We just didn’t flag them down.”
In the second half, as Nyakundi stepped to the free-throw line, former Mustang forward David Miller (1969-72) shouted, “Way to go, Robert! That’s how you win ballgames, right there!”
“Really,” Miller said, “what I meant was not making the free throws, but about getting that offensive rebound. That’s what they’ve demonstrated in the last six weeks, fight. Every play counts, particularly in the second half, the last 10-15 minutes of the game. You’ve got to play hard every time down the court. That’s how you win games and that’s how you win championships.”
Miller knows something about turning things around, having played on a 4-10 SMU team his sophomore year and on the 10-4 Southwest Conference Co-Champions as a senior.
“They showed me [tonight] what they’ve shown for the last six weeks,” Miller said, “and that’s just a lot of hustle, a lot of grit. To lose that lead with two minutes left was hard to watch, but they came back. They made the free throws, took care of the basketball.”
“This is just a continuation of what’s been a complete turnaround of this basketball team. … I’m really proud of the team and Matt.”
How ‘bout Samarrippas in OT?
“Oh, he’s a fighter, isn’t he?” Miller said. “He’s a big-time fighter.”
SMU’s chances at Marshall on Saturday?
“I haven’t seen Marshall play,” Miller said. “They obviously have a good team. I think they’re close to a 20-win season, they won tonight [against Tulsa], so it’ll be a difficult ballgame.”
But Miller has seen SMU play at Tulsa and Houston this season. “Both wins on the road, big wins,” he said. “So we’ll play with a lot of heart and we’ll play hard. We’ve got a chance to win. That’s the difference in this team. They’ve got a chance to win every night.”
*Dia now has 818 career rebounds, sixth all-time at SMU.
*This was the 193rd meeting between Rice and SMU, a series that dates back to 1918. The Mustangs now hold a 118-74 series edge, the most games and wins for SMU against any team.
*On comparisons between 5-10, 160-pound freshman Samarrippas and 90s Duke star Bobby Hurley: “There are a lot of similarities, with the grit, toughness, the energy, the fearlessness. So that’s not a bad comparison.”
Next two for SMU:
*Saturday, Feb. 26, @ Marshall, 6 p.m., Central
*Wednesday, March 2, @ UCF, 6 p.m., Central