“It was just another game in our way to the NCAA tournament, that’s our ultimate goal getting there and hopefully wining the national championship” — Sterling Brown SMU
While Brown is trying to keep things in perspective with that comment and we all know that the team is focused on the bigger goals, it would be hard to not to look back at the convincing 73-55 victory over the UConn Huskies on Saturday evening and not find some pride in it.
With ESPN College Game Day in the building the national spotlight was on the match-up that pitted the 2014 Men’s National Champion against a program that could be good enough to contend for the 2015 title.
Going into the game the keys to victory were:
1. Keep the unknowns unknown for UConn
With the graduation of Shabazz Napier, his 2014 back court mate Ryan Boatright has stepped into the role of the Huskies go-to guy and outside of an occasional scoring outburst from Daniel Hamilton or Rodney Purvis, the offense operated through Boatright. While it was going to be tough to shut down Boatright, SMU had to make sure no one else hurt them.
Daniel Hamilton did finish the game with 13 points but only shot 3-of-11 from the field and never seemed comfortable defending Mustangs forward Ben Moore and Cannen Cunningham on the other end. The rest of the Huskies starters combined to shoot 5-of-19 for only 10 points.
2.Yanick Moreira must be big
the 6’11 senior from Angola is having a great bounce back year to his injury riddled 2013-14 season and against the Huskies he proved that he is capable of being a huge impact on both ends of the court for the Mustangs. Offensively he scored 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting and kept UConn’s big men, Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan, in foul trouble all game. As we move closer to tournament time not only is Moreira gaining more confidence in his game and it is translating to him being more of a vocal leader as well.
3. Nic Moore finds a backcourt running mate
You know things are going well when your star player only has seven points midway through the second half and you still have a comfortable lead. While the Mustangs did not need Moore as many expected he had to be pleased with being able to defer to others — primarily sophomore guard Sterling Brown. Stepping in for the suspended Keith Frazier was an adjustment but Brown has answered the call. As the teams “glue guy” Brown has done all the little things in his expanded role and Saturday was no different. His 13 points were tied for high scorer for the Mustangs but it was his defense against Purvis that set the tone for the game. In the three previous games Purvis had been averaging 14.6 ppg and was shooting 50% from the field. Against SMU he made only one of nine shots and finished the game with four points.
While this was a big victory for the program, you can only hope that this was more about the team finally executing at its full potential and not the players performing above their head due to the national focus and wanting to play for head coach Larry Brown who was mourning the loss of his mentor former University of North Carolina head coach Dean Smith.
The team’s focus will be tested Thursday when it travels to Philadelphia to face a Temple Owls team that is looking to secure a tournament berth with an upset. The Owls are lead by guard Will Cummings who is averaging 13.7 ppg and 4.3 rpg on the season but in the last five games has upped that to 16.6 ppg including a 17 point performance in the last game against ECU. Just like UConn, Temple is not a big team and it will be important for SMU’s quartet of big men to take capitalize on its size advantage.