Looked Good to SMU
Mustangs Gut Out Win In Doherty's Home Opener
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.
DALLAS - Head coach Matt Doherty’s home debut Saturday was a success as the Mustangs gutted out a 53-48 win over Dayton. It was no work of art, maybe even "ugly" – SMU shot 30%, Dayton shot 28% - but the 3-1 Mustangs will take it.
"I’m really proud of our guys for gutting out a win," Doherty said. "Obviously, it wasn’t a pretty game."
SMU relied on clutch free throws from center Bamba Fall and guard Dez Willingham, who sank two each in the final 20 seconds, to preserve the win.
"There’s just gonna be games like this," Doherty said. "And I think to gut it out showed a lot of character."
The Mustangs looked tight at times with poor shooting, turnovers, and early foul trouble, perhaps trying too hard to impress on their new coach’s big night.
Doherty took responsibility.
"I think I’ll take the blame for the performance," he said, "because I think I probably made our guys a little tight. I wanted to come out and perform so well for our fans."
"I wanted our fans to see what Mustang basketball’s gonna look like now."
Pearson and forward Ike Ofoegbu led the team with 5 rebounds each.
Doherty said the Mustangs were forced to play more zone than they would have liked in the first half because of early foul trouble.
"We were good in man-to-man," said Pearson. "We kind of struggled in some areas when we were in the zone."
While Doherty said he was pleased with the noise level in Moody Coliseum, he wants to get the full effect with a bigger crowd.
"We had 3,000 people in there and it felt pretty loud," he said. "Let’s get 6, in there, in a tight ball game, and it’s a true home court advantage."
Roberts and Pearson both said the crowd was noticeably louder than last season. After the win, the full student section bestowed rock star status on Doherty with high fives and chants as he walked by with the team.
"We love the fans," Pearson said. "Keep coming out."
"They are very thirsty and hungry to be successful. They’re very smart. Whatever I ask them to do, they want to please. You can see it in their eyes."
"So, I can’t ask anything more in terms of their attitude."
Roberts said the team is responding to Doherty.
"Now, we’re more poised," he said. "When we first came out … we were moving - moving at a hundred miles per hour. Now we’re more settled down."
Pearson said despite Doherty’s celebrity, he’s cool.
"He’s a real down to earth kind of guy," he said. "He’s actually real humble. He’s likable."
Without last season’s leading scorer, Bryan Hopkins, SMU is picked eighth in the conference. Center Donatas Rackauskas and guard Jon Killen said the Mustangs are motivated to prove folks wrong.
Next game: Wednesday, November 22, at home vs. Louisiana-Monroe. UL-M beat SMU last year, 71-64.
Two after that:
SMU starting lineup
Off the Bench
Did you know? It was a good day all around for SMU athletics. Earlier, across the way at Ford Stadium, the football team overcame a 24-7 halftime deficit to thump Tulsa, 34-24. With a win Saturday at Rice, SMU goes to its first bowl since 1984.