SMU Scorches Southern Miss, 79-65, With Near 70-Percent Shooting
DALLAS – I love the smell of scorched nylon in the evening. Nothing else in the world smells like that. Smells like … victory.
Oh, alright. SMU coach Matt Doherty didn’t say that after the Mustangs dead-eyed Southern Miss on Saturday. But he could have. (And apologies to Robert Duvall.)
Doherty’s bunch nailed 69.8 percent of their shots (30-of-43), including 12-of-18 3s, for the second-highest shooting percentage in school history. (The record, 72.3 percent, was set just two months ago against Lamar.
In the decisive second half, the Mustangs put in 17-of-23 attempts, or 73.9 percent. One guesses a medicine ball would have gone in.
Dia was a perfect 10-for-10 from the field - something no C-USA player with ten or more shots in a game has done for over a decade. Dia finished with a game-high 23 points, with nine boards and four blocks. (Can he just keep Player of the Week for the rest of the season? Thank you.)
Robert Nyakundi added 16 points for SMU, including 3-of-3 3-pointers. Collin Mangrum had a season-high 15 points and Rodney Clinkscales came off the bench for four big 3s. Freshman guard Jeremiah Samarrippas had a career-high nine assists for the Mustangs.
“I think [Papa Dia’s] focus was tremendous the last few days of practice,” Doherty said. “As Pop goes, in terms of his emotion and leadership, our team goes.”
Doherty said this is the best his team has played all season. “No question. … Our offense, it’s not a simple offense, so it’s going to get better. And our defense is not a simple defense. It requires a lot of communication – and it gets better. So, hopefully, we’re just starting to scratch the surface.”
“It’s really the players’ offense,” he added “… because whoever has the ball is the point guard. He dictates what happens.”
Said Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy, “We just got out-determined. And they made a lot of shots. … It’s one of those games we’ve got to put behind us, but they played great. We’ve got to give them all the credit.”
The Golden Eagles (14-5, 3-3) had lost a one-point decision to Memphis three days prior. Eustachy was asked about its possible effect.
“We haven’t been playing right for about the last three or four games,” he said. “So I think it’s going to take a few games like this to wake us up and understand that when we go away from how we’re supposed to play, we’re not very good. We proved that tonight.”
Was SMU’s shooting just a matter of getting hot or getting open looks?
“I think it was 50-50,” Eustachy said. “We missed a lot of assignments. We missed a lot of plays. If you put the [ SMU-] Houston tape on, all the shots they made [against us], they missed against Houston.”
“It’s when you catch them and where you catch them that is a big part of this.”
“We just have to do things that [are] who we are,” Eustachy said. “That’s getting the loose balls and getting the rebounds and guarding. You know, we’re last in the country now, probably, in the last six games in defending. We gave up 69 percent, [and] we came in here giving up 50. We even had to go to a zone tonight to try and stop it.”
The Eagles were led by Angelo Johnson with 16 points. Maurice Bolden had a team-high seven rebounds. Eagles leading scorer Gary Flowers was held to six points until final 20 seconds when he hit two 3s.
Southern Miss shot 42.9 percent overall, making only 7-of-20 from three-point range.
After leading by as much as ten points in the first half, SMU (11-8, 2-3) found itself tied, 31-31, before a Mike Walker 3 with four seconds left gave the Mustangs the halftime lead.
SMU never trailed after the 15:30 mark of the second half, when Dia’s lay-up gave the Mustangs a 42-40 lead. Still, SMU was only 1-of-5 from the free throw line with nine minutes to go and the Eagles still hanging around at 52-44. But the Mustangs hit 6-of-8 from the line down the stretch, keeping Southern Miss at bay.
Dia played with four fouls over the final six minutes while scoring nine points.
Southern Miss’ largest lead throughout was three points, early in the second half.
In the stands for this one, as he is for most home games, was Billy Allen, SMU point guard from 1978-80. “This was just a good victory,” he said. “I think they can keep the momentum going. They’re playing good ball at the right time.”
“This was as good as they’ve been playing all year. You never know, if they time it right and play good basketball towards the end of the year, they could cause some damage.”
To the nets, certainly, and who knows what else?
Next two for SMU:
*Wednesday, Jan. 26, @ Tulsa, 7 p.m.
*Saturday, Jan. 29, @ Rice, 2 p.m.
*Attendance – 3,354
* Louisville’s Marcus Maybin made 10-of-10 shots at Tulane on Feb. 18, 1999.
*At halftime, SMU’s Letterman’s Association honored former football team captain Albon Head with its Silver Anniversary Mustang Award. Head was a member of SMU’s 1966 SWC championship team and co-captain of the Mustangs’ 1968 Bluebonnet Bowl team that defeated Oklahoma.
*Dia’s nickname for Clinkscales, “Frosty,” derives from Clinkscales’ oft frozen home state of Illinois.