Wave Turned Back
SMU Avenges Early Loss To Tulane For Fifth Straight Win
DALLAS – When it was all over, SMU coach Matt Doherty exited the court by jogging through a gauntlet of cheering SMU students who turned and followed him and the victorious Mustangs out the tunnel to the locker room.
After SMU’s fifth win in a row, 66-61 over Tulane on Wednesday, it’s obvious something is clicking between Doherty, this team and the student body - especially the fraternities, who now raise a noticeable din at home games.
The noise is no doubt spreading too as the Mustangs (15-8, 6-3) remain among six teams separated by one game atop C-USA’s standings.
SMU was again led by 6-9 senior Papa Dia, who this night racked up 24 points and 11 rebounds for his 10 th double-double of the season. The dominant Dia was 9-of-10 from the field with three blocks.
Mustangs Robert Nyakundi and Jeremiah Samarrippas added 13 and 12 points, respectively. The game featured six ties and four lead changes. SMU out-rebounded Tulane 24-22, with a 20-13 edge in defensive boards.
Tulane, led by Johnny Mayhane’s and Jordan Callahan’s 16 points each, has not won since beating the Mustangs on January 8 in New Orleans.
“Credit SMU,” said first-year Green Wave coach Ed Conroy. “I thought they shot the ball with an awful lot of confidence. They’ve been playing very well. Tonight, when we weren’t able to turn them over, and they really got a good look at the basket, they knocked down a high percentage.”
“We’re a little bit of a different team without [injured guard] Aaron Holmes, so I knew there’d be some differences in the match-up [since last playing SMU], but it was much of the same. … They execute what they do very well and it’s later in the year, so you knew they’d be a better basketball team.”
What was discussed at the half, trailing SMU, 31-30? “Just the fact that we weren’t getting to their three-point shooters,” Conroy said. “I felt like there were a couple of times that we didn’t cover the screens the way we needed to and I thought that would be a big factor. Then also our activity on Dia. I thought our guys did a really good job defending him the first time [we played], but obviously he had a very good game tonight.”
Doherty called it “a tough game.”
“I think our guys thought it might be easy,” he said. “There’s no game in our league that’s going to be easy. I don’t know that there are many games in college basketball that are going to be easy.”
SMU jumped out to an 12-5 lead, but were soon staring at a 12-12 tie. “We had a dogfight on our hands,” Doherty said.
By the break, Dia had pumped in half the Mustangs’ points. “At halftime, I didn’t think [Dia] had played great,” Doherty said, “and he had like 15 points and [six] rebounds.”
With one second left in the first half, Doherty and Dia appeared to have a disagreement during a timeout, with Doherty making his final point inches from Dia’s face. Doherty said Dia handles these situations “a lot better than he used to.” “Pop and I, he’s emotional, I’m emotional.”
“He said he didn’t call a timeout,” Doherty said. “I saw him cross his hands. The ref saw him do it. But, Pop, he’s more mad at himself in those instances. We were fine. We walked off the court. … I said, ‘Listen, Pop, you’re bigger than me but don’t argue with me, OK? I can still find a way to kick your butt.’”
Doherty praised Dia’s improved maturity. “He started off [tonight], two turnovers early. As a sophomore, he’d be done for the game. Last year, he fought through it better. This year, he forgets it a lot quicker, moves on.”
Overall, SMU shot 64 percent from field, 58 percent from 3-point range. “I’m disappointed in the 16 turnovers,” Doherty said, “but we’re leading the league in field goal percentage. And that’s a good thing.”
The Mustangs held Tulane (12-11, 2-8) to 37-percent shooting in second half. “When Justin [Haynes] and Ryan [Harp] came in,” Doherty said, “along with the student section, they gave us a spark, defensively, that I thought was the difference in the game.”
SMU looked to be pulling away with 7:44 left on a Collin Mangrum steal and lay-up that gave the Mustangs a 50-44 lead. But Tulane wasn’t done, rolling for seven straight points and a one-point lead.
SMU took lead for good on two Dia free throws, 52-50, with 5:21 left. Mangrum then fed Dia down low for an easy put-in to give the Mustangs a 54-51 lead.
Nyakundi’s wide-open deep-corner three, with a cross-court assist from Mike Walker, put SMU up, 57-53, with four minutes left. The next timeout, Doherty stepped into the huddle, hunched over and went Hulk Hogan: stomping, yelling and flexing his arms. The team responded with hoops and hollers.
“It’s kind of our Mustang warrior dance,” Doherty said. “It started at Memphis. At certain times during a game, after a game, it’s kind of like, ‘Alright, guys, it’s time.’”
SMU went on to build its largest of the game, nine points, with 54 seconds left.
Dia laughed when asked about the “dance.”
“To see Coach Doherty do that, it means that he’s really into it. … The first time he did that, I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe he just did that. Oh, well, let’s just go out there and have fun.’ It helps us a lot.”
Doherty said teams can pick their poison when playing SMU: stop Dia and watch Mustang shooters rain 3s, or stop the 3 and watch Dia dominate inside. “Really, the first few minutes of the game,” Doherty said, “that’s when we figure out, ‘OK, what’s their game plan?’”
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but I think in the last few years, we might not have won this game.”
* SMU now holds 13-11 all time series edge over Tulane, with a 10-2 mark at home.
*The game marked Robert Nyakundi’s 19 th double-digit scoring performance of the season.
*Jeremiah Samarrippas has 27 assists and just nine turnovers in the last five games.
Next two for SMU:
Saturday, Feb. 12, @ UTEP, 8 p.m. Central
Wednesday, Feb. 16, @ Houston, 7 p.m. Central