SMU toppled the East Carolina Pirates 86-61 Sunday afternoon, getting back on track after a loss to Connecticut.
The victory was a superb all-around effort. Each of SMU’s five starters scored in double digits, as Jahmal McMurray and Jimmy Whitt led the way with 20 points each. Ethan Chargois added 16. As a team, SMU shot 61.8 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3. No starter shot worse than 50 percent from the field.
The sweet shooting performance was relieving for SMU after the team shot 28.1 percent against UConn.
“When you shoot it good, basketball is really fun and when you shoot it really bad basketball is a miserable existence,” Tim Jankovich said.
Ben Emelogu led the way for the Mustangs in the first half, piling up 13 points. He swished a high arcing 3-pointer from the corner at the halftime buzzer to extend the SMU lead to 44-33 going into the break.
The Mustangs let the Pirates hang around in the first half, partially due to some sloppy passing. SMU turned it over eight times, some of which were airmailed passes that landed out of bounds.
In the second half, SMU turned on the heat. The Mustangs blew the game wide open with a 28-11 in the first 10 minutes of the half. SMU was getting good looks at the rim and beyond the arc, while it tightened up its defense on the other end.
The Mustangs are playing with just eight scholarship players after injuries to Jarrey Foster and Everett Ray. With limited depth, the team needs to fight for its victories.
“We all got to be in a fever pitch mindset because we’re small, we’re not deep, we’re young, we’re inexperienced,” Jankovich said. “Because of that, we have to scratch these out. We got to do it on heart and togetherness and intensity and toughness and all those kind of things.”
Shake Milton played just 31 minutes, one of his lowest totals of the season. He scored 11 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Jankovich mentioned that both of Milton’s hands were bothering him.
McMurray’s 20 points was his highest since joining SMU. The the team is relying on the junior guard to make plays since he took over for Foster in the starting lineup.
“I’m just trying to come in and step up and do whatever it takes,” McMurray said. “Go out there, play defense, play hard and just try to get it done.”
Aside from his career-high 20 points, Whitt shined in SMU’s zone defense, moving around well and shutting down his side of the floor.
“Part of me being able to help the team is defensive-wise because that’s a bigger part than me on offense right now,” Whitt said.
SMU also honored a program great Sunday afternoon. Former Mustang guard Gene Phillips had his No. 23 jersey retired. Phillips played three seasons for the Mustangs from 1968 to 1971, averaging 26.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Next, SMU will hit the road to take on Tulsa. That game will tip off at 7 p.m. on Thursday.