SMU basketball update: Loosening The Reins
Mustangs Take Open Shots, Blow Away UTPA, 84-71.
CUSA-fans.com has a new staff of team correspondents this year to help bring you, the fan, more detailed Conference USA sports coverage. Today, our SMU Correspondent Rick Atkinson brings you his weekly SMU basketball update.
It wasn’t that close, folks.
SMU rediscovered its shooting touch, and much-needed confidence, burying UT-Pan American at home Thursday. The Mustangs (10-3) hit their first six three-point shots and jumped out to a 21-point lead. UTPA never threatened.
“I’m just very pleased with our game,” said SMU head coach Matt Doherty. “I thought we were in control of the game from beginning to end.”
SMU led, 84-59, when Doherty emptied the bench with under two minutes remaining. UTPA scored the game’s final 12 points.
The Mustangs’ connected on 13 of 21 3s, including 8 of 10 in the first half. The barrage was SMU’s fourth most 3s ever made in a game and its third best 3-point percentage (61.9%).
Jon Killen pumped in a career-high 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 from 3-point range. Devon Pearson, back after a knee injury, pulled down a game-high 8 rebounds. Donatas Rackauskas added 13 points, and Derrick Roberts and Ike Ofoegbu had 12 each.
Rackauskas and Bamba Fall had 3 and 2 blocks, respectively.
On the down side, SMU again had problems with turnovers, tallying 20.
The victory ended a two-game losing streak that had threatened to wreck the Mustang’s confidence. Killen told Doherty as much after a bad practice Wednesday.
The words caused Doherty to institute a 24-hour crash course to “build ‘em up.”
The plan included players watching a hastily-made highlight reel of themselves from earlier this season. They watched it on the big screen in Moody.
“We had to put that to a halt and give them confidence,” Doherty said. “They’ve worked too hard in the preseason. They’ve done too much in a short period of time to start feeling badly about themselves. They need to feel good about themselves.”
“He felt like we were too tight and too afraid to make errors,” Roberts said. “He just told us to go out and play our game and have fun.”
Along those lines, the UTPA game plan included more flexibility on 3-point shooting.
Said Doherty, “Maybe I needed to loosen the reins a little bit and let the guys know that I want you to look inside first, but if you have a good look, take the shot.”
The win was Doherty’s 100 th as a head coach. The team gave him the game ball at mid-court immediately afterward.
“He was kind of shocked,” Roberts said. “I don’t think he was really thinking about it. But, he was really thankful for it.”
There was a scary moment midway through the second half when Ofoegbu and Fall both went down within seconds of each other, at opposite ends of the court. First, Ofoegbu was hit in the face near the Mustangs’ basket and collapsed. As play continued at the other end, Fall was nailed in the jaw and fell too.
Doherty and the team doctor first checked on Ofoegbu, nearer the SMU bench. He soon was up and going.
But Fall was still motionless, flat on his stomach, when Doherty and others arrived.
“He was lying, like, stiff as a board,” Roberts said. “It didn’t look too good. I was calling him and he wasn’t saying anything.”
After nearly 10 minutes, Fall walked off the court, straight to the locker room, with assistance from two teammates. Doherty said Fall had been knocked out, but was fine.
With both players OK, Doherty was able to see some humor in the situation.
“You got two guys down, who do you go to first?” he asked. “I went to the upperclassman.”
Doherty on Killen: “For him to go 4-6 from the 3-point line is pretty cool to see – very rewarding as a coach to see him do that.”
Roberts? “I thought he played maybe one of his best games,” Doherty said. “Just loose - made good decisions.”
Roberts, on being sent to the locker room by Doherty during a game three weeks ago:
“That situation, I didn’t even look at it as a negative thing. I told him that I thought that … God let that happen for me and him to sit down and have a conversation like that. Since then, [we] have gotten close.”
Next game: Sat., Jan. 6, 7 p.m. vs. Brown University
Two after that: Wed., Jan. 10, 7 p.m. vs. Southern Miss
Sat., Jan 13, 5 p.m. @ Houston
Ronnie sez: “I think they’re back on a positive note. They need to carry over the way they played last night against Brown … and get ready for this first conference game against Southern Miss.”
(Ronnie Perry has followed SMU basketball since 1957.)
Did you know?
*Doherty’s first head coaching win was Notre Dame over Ohio State at Columbus, on a last-second shot.
*Derrick Roberts is a classical pianist. He’s played for eight years.
*Say what? A UTPA assistant screamed for a charging call, thusly: “That’s a Mastercard, ref!” What a crack-up. Bet he’s got a million of ‘em.