With just over six minutes left in the first half, SMU forward Ben Moore grabbed a long rebound off a missed three-pointer from Sterling Brown. Moore handed the ball to Ben Emelogu, who had Jarrey Foster wide open for an alley-oop after Tulane chased the rebound. But the easy basket was not meant to be.
Emelogu’s high pass clipped off of Foster’s fingers and landed out of bounds. The junior began walking back up the floor, cursing himself in frustration. That was when the senior Moore ran up to Emelogu and said, “C’mon, we’re good.”
It was a much needed moment of encouragement from one of SMU’s seniors. The Mustangs found themselves in an unfamiliar situation, down 11 on their home floor against a Green Wave team with only four wins on the season and the worst record in the conference.
“Whenever any of us get down on ourselves we got a brother to pick us up,” Moore said in the postgame press conference. “The mentality always has to be next play.”
A hangover from Sunday’s hard-fought win over No. 11 Cincinnati? Maybe. But in that moment, the reason for the deficit did not matter. It was gut check time.
If not for a stellar shooting performance in the second half, SMU may have laid an egg in front of the same crowd that roared when the Mustangs took down a ranked team just days prior.
All five SMU starters finished in double figures after the Mustangs shot 56 percent from the field after halftime. Jarrey Foster led SMU in scoring with 19 points and Semi Ojeleye added 18. Ben Moore recorded his 7th double-double of the season with 15 points and 13 rebounds in the Mustangs’ 80-75 win over Tulane on Wednesday night.
After rallying from a 15 point deficit at the half, SMU head coach Tim Jankovich said that type of game is not good for his health.
“I have a happy life, I love life,” Jankovich said postgame. “I’m sitting there thinking during the game, ‘I guarantee this is shortening my longevity.’ They [Tulane] played outstanding. I have so much respect for what I saw.”
The Mustangs started out flat, lacking the defensive urgency that had been the difference maker in Sunday’s win. Tulane shot 52 percent before halftime and shot 7-for-14 from the perimeter.
“We might have gotten a little too complacent,” Moore said. “We came out a little slow, but I’m glad we got it together towards the end.”
Jankovich said getting it together was really the only option.
“We were desperate,” Jankovich said. “We dug the worst hole in the world.”
Tulane’s Cameron Reynolds had scored 15 points on SMU before the break. He said flattening the Mustangs’ defense was part of the Green Wave’s game plan.
“Really it’s just taking the right shots,” Reynolds said postgame. “I’m not trying to be too aggressive out there, but I just take the ones that are given to me.”
Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy said SMU’s ability to respond to repeated punches makes the Mustangs a tough matchup for anyone.
“They’re [SMU] a really good team,” Dunleavy said postgame. “Fundamentally, incredibly sound. As good as virtually anybody in the country.”
The Mustangs’ poor defensive stand in the early going became a cause for panic when SMU’s shots refused to fall.
Ojeleye went 0-for-10 to begin the game before exploding for 16 points in the final frame. Jarrey Foster’s big night also did not kick off until the sophomore pounded home a string of dunks that helped the Mustangs grab the lead. Foster’s dunk over Tulane’s Sammis Reyes blew the roof off Moody Coliseum.
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“I was in the zone,” Foster said postgame. “I was just trying to make effort plays, try to get our energy going.”
On a night where everything seemed to go wrong, SMU’s refusal to lose was about the only thing that went right.
“We just had to try to win the second half on grit,” Jankovich said.
Foster said knowing how to grind out wins is part of SMU’s culture.
“My teammates around me, they’re down to win. They’re going to win,” Foster said. “They’re winners, we’re winners. Anytime we step on the court, we’re looking to win, whatever it takes.”