SMU men's basketball advances to CIT Final Four behind Dia’s career-high 21 rebounds
Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
In their 14th postseason tournament, the Mustangs cruised to a 57-50 win over the University of Northern Iowa in the quarterfinal round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Monday night in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Led by senior Papa Dia with 17 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, the Mustangs (20-14) climbed ahead of the UNI Panthers by 13 points just six minutes into the second half to seal their 20th win of the season.
Dia, who came off the bench in the opening game of the tournament, had his 16th double double and 29th of his career, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 boards in the second half. Dia's rebounds tied the most by a Mustang since Jon Koncak's 1985 season.
"He was a man out there," Head Coach Matt Doherty said about Dia, who had been playing with a bad back. "We wouldn't be in this position where we're winning 20 games for the first time in 11 years without him."
After falling behind by 4 points in the opening minutes of play, SMU took control of the lead for the remainder of the game off a three-pointer from Dia.
The Mustangs finished the night shooting 50 percent from the field compared to only 27.5 percent from Northern Iowa.
Mike Walker, an Iowa City native, drained a three-pointer with 1:04 left in the opening half to give SMU a commanding 31-23 lead at the break. Another three from Robert Nyakundi in the first minutes of the second half led to SMU's largest lead of 13 points.
The Panthers managed to come within five points following a layup from Kwadzo Ahelegbe with 23.5 seconds left but Dia blocked his opponent's next layup attempt to put the ball back in SMU's possession. SMU, in its best defensive showing of the year, held UNI to just 26.9 percent shooting from the field and 1-for-11 in three-pointers in the second half and out-rebounded the Panthers 30-24.
Adding to SMU's effort was senior Collin Mangrum with 11 points and three assists and Nyakundi, back from missing most of last weekend's game against Jacksonville with an eye injury, with 11 points and one block.
Leading Northern Iowa was Ahelegbe with 18 points and Jake Koch with 11 points. Northern Iowa, in its third consecutive postseason appearance, received a bye in the second round following a first-round win over Rider, and saw its third consecutive postseason appearance come to a close with the loss. In the opening round of the CIT Tournament, SMU defeated Oral Roberts University in a 64-57 overtime win at Moody Coliseum. Three days later, they knocked off Jacksonville University 63-62 with two free throws from Dia with .1 second left.
The Mustangs' win over ORU was the team's first time to clinch a win beyond the regular season since 1988 when SMU defeated Notre Dame in the NCAA Championship. The back-to-back wins marked the first time SMU has won two games in the same postseason since the team's appearance in the NCAA Final Four in 1956.
"This tournament gives us an opportunity to grow as a program," Doherty said. "To see the seniors grow and bring this program from three losing seasons to a 20-win season to these semifinals of a national tournament, it's a lot of fun. We don't want it to end."
With 20 wins, the team posted its highest win total since the 1999-2000 season, clinching eight wins in league play, the most for the Mustangs since joining Conference USA in the 2005-2006 season. SMU's 15-6 home record also ties the school record for most home wins since the 1984-1985 season.
SMU will play the Santa Clara (22-14) in the semi-finals CIT on Friday at Moody Coliseum at 7 p.m.