No Last Laugh
SMU Falls To UTEP, 59-56, In Regular Season Finale
DALLAS – SMU wrapped up its best Conference USA regular season yet with a familiar heartbreaking one-bucket loss, the Mustangs’ third in a row. Sharpshooter Robert Nyakundi’s buzzer-beating 3 to tie - just his third shot of the game - missed and the Miners had a tough 59-56 win.
With the victory, UTEP (23-8, 11-5) secured a first-round bye in next week’s Buick C-USA Championship in El Paso. When the dust had settled Saturday night, UTEP was the league’s No. 3 seed behind UAB and Tulsa.
SMU nabbed the No. 7 seed and faces No. 10 Rice on Wednesday.
The Mustangs (17-13, 8-8) trailed by 14 points early in the second half and staged three separate rallies before succumbing.
“It was just a real challenge,” said UTEP coach Tim Floyd. “We played against a poised, well-coached basketball team that made us work on the defensive end and made us pay when we lost concentration. They’ve given us fits both times we’ve played.”
“I’m real pleased with the win,” Floyd said. “I thought we defensive-boarded it the best we have all year. We got great play from Christian Polk, and Julyan Stone has done a great job on Nyakundi the two games that we’ve played. He’s held him to two field goals in two games and he’s one of the better players in our league.”
Was the game what Floyd expected? “Yeah,” he said, “they give up 61.5 [points per game]. They do that an awful lot with a very good defense, but they also do it with a very poised, patient offense. And they force you to be more patient than you’d like to be on the offensive end.”
Papa Dia led the Mustangs with 19 points, eight boards and four blocks. Collin Mangrum and Mike Walker added 14 and 11 points, respectively. The three seniors were playing their final home game for SMU.
Nyakundi, who averages 15 points per game, had six points.
Polk’s 18 points led UTEP, and Jeremy Williams’ 16 and Randy Culpepper’s 13 rounded out the Miners’ double-digit scoring. Gabriel McCulley led all rebounders with 10.
SMU led just once, by two, early in the first half.
Four of SMU’s eight league losses this season have been by three points or less, giving Mustang fans hope for a league tourney run. Floyd isn’t counting anyone out.
“Expect the unexpected,” he said. “That’s what I expect because I can see a team in our bottom third winning the whole thing and going to the NCAA tournament. Not only going, but representing us well in the tournament. I think the league is that good.”
“What people, nationally, don’t understand is that this league has no weaknesses at the bottom,” Floyd said. “There are no wins you just chalk up, which I see in other leagues.”
SMU lost this one in the first half, getting out-shot 50 to 30 percent, to trail, 32-22, at the break. The Miners put in 5-of-7 3s in the first half – four by Polk.
The second half didn’t start much better for the Mustangs. A Williams lay-up gave UTEP its biggest lead of the game, 36-22, and the large Miner fan contingent turned up the razz. One prominent sign read, “Ya’ll might pay the bills, but we OWN this place,” a nod to UTEP’s 15-1 recent series record.
But the Mustangs nearly got the last laugh.
Fueled by two Mangrum 3s and a Dia dunk, SMU climbed to within four points at the 15:32 mark. The Miners stretched it back to eight, but SMU cut it to three on a Jeremiah Samarrippas lay-up with 12 minutes left.
UTEP ran the lead to ten again before the Mustangs’ final push. A Dia lay-up-and-one made it 56-53 with 1:17 to play, but two late Samarrippas turnovers were costly. (Samarrippas had a game-high seven assists.)
Walker’s 3 with five seconds left cut UTEP’s lead to 57-56 before two Culpepper free throws provided the final margin.
UTEP out-rebounded the Mustangs, 33-25, with a 12-5 bulge offensively. The Miners led in the paint, 24-18. SMU turned it over 18 times to UTEP’s 16.
Family members and friends of SMU seniors were on hand for the Mustangs’ home finale. Among them was David Mangrum, former Baylor quarterback (1979-82) and father of Collin.
“Obviously we would have liked a win,” David said, “no question about it. But as long as the kids continue to give all that they give, which is what you’re seeing out on the floor, we feel like we’re going to do very well in the Conference USA tournament in El Paso. The kids are giving great effort and that’s all you can ask for.”
What’s it been like seeing Collin contribute so much to the Mustangs in one season as a senior-transfer?
“First of all,” David said, “it’s just a blessing for us to be here because if you knew where we came from six surgeries ago, Collin was in and out at North Texas. We had a great time over at North Texas but we’re so happy and so excited to be a part of the program here at SMU and be a part of Matt Doherty’s program, which we think is doing great things and it’s going to do better things.”
David said Collin met Doherty at the Texas high school basketball state championships in Austin when Collin was in the sixth grade. Doherty was head coach at North Carolina at the time.
“Matt Doherty was walking through the concession stand area and Collin met him and said, ‘One of these days, I want to play for that man.’”
Like Floyd said, “Expect the unexpected.”
*SMU’s one win in its last 17 games with UTEP: 99-96, double-OT, in Dallas three years ago.
*Other SMU seniors and their families recognized before Saturday’s game: Ryan Harp, Myles Luttman and Tomasz Kwiatkowski.
*UTEP coach Tim Floyd coached the NBA’s Chicago Bulls from 1998-2001.
*David Mangrum was a member of Baylor’s 1980 Southwest Conference championship team, along with Mike Singletary, Walter Abercrombie and Dennis Gentry.
Next two for SMU
Buick C-USA Championship @ El Paso, March 9-12, 2011
* No. 7 SMU vs. No. 8 Rice, Wed., March 9, 9 p.m. CT
*winner vs. No. 2 Tulsa, Thurs., March 10, 9 p.m. CT