Back to the basics

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Junior Ryan Harp goes up for the contested shot against South Florida University’s Chris Howard in the SMU’s 2009 season opener. The Mustangs lost the game, 67-61. (CASEY LEE/The Daily Campus)

Coming off their first two wins of the season, the men’s basketball team went back to the drawing board as they worked on perfecting the basics in preparation of hosting Texas Christian University (4-3) tonight in Moody Coliseum at 7:30.

A close win over Huston-Tillotson on Nov. 23 evened out SMU’s record, but still left a sour taste in the players’ mouths. Up by 18 points halfway through the second half, SMU allowed the Rams to come within three points with 17 seconds left for a final score of 69-65.

Now, looking to improve to a 3-2 record, the Mustangs have spent the past week practicing and mastering the basics. Think boxing out, pivoting and working on jump shots, as they hope to gain an advantage in a category that head coach Matt Doherty thinks is ignored by most.

“It sounds very basic, but youngsters these days lack fundamentals,” Doherty said. “We’re now spending more time working on the basics that I learned in fourth grade that today’s players don’t get.”

In the 185th meeting between the teams, SMU heads into tonight’s game with a 101-83 lead in the series, winning four of the last six games against the Horned Frogs. TCU won last season in Fort Worth, 62-44, but last time the Frogs came to Moody the Mustangs won, 71-65.

Looking to come off a two-loss streak, TCU has yet to win a game on the road. Despite their three losses, the Horned Frogs have the leading offensive rebounder in the Mountain West Conference. Kevin Butler, a 6-foot-5-inch forward, averages 4.3 offensive rebounds per game. Butler is also ranked sixth in blocked shots per game. Averaging 20 minutes per game this season, the sophomore is expected to make his eighth start tonight.

However, it will be the trio of Ronnie Moss, Edvinas Ruzgas and Zvonko Buljan to put points on the board as they average 19, 14 and 13 points, respectively. Buljan, the team’s only player to average a double-double, has been hitting on average 10.7 boards per game.

There’s more than a historical record between these teams, though, as Doherty and TCU head coach Jim Christian have known each other since grade school.

Growing up just 10 miles from each other in Long Island, Doherty said he was once a referee for a game Christian played in when they were in the sixth grade.

“[The players] know that even though TCU isn’t in our conference, it’s still a rivalry game for us and gives us more meaning because it is right in our backyard,” Doherty said.

Sophomore Robert Nyakundi is making his return after a three-game hiatus from a bruised heel. In his first season, the 6-foot-8-inch forward led the team in steals on five occasions, averaging 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Having had to rely on starters Mouhammad Faye and Papa Dia more, head coach Matt Doherty is relieved to have Nyakundi back on the hardwood.

However, the defense will be missing the 6-foot-11-inch center Myles Luttman. Luttman, out with a sprained knee ligament, is expected to miss two games, according to Doherty.

Featuring a more experienced lineup than last season, this year’s roster includes two seniors, five juniors and sophomores, and two freshmen.

The only starter lost was 7-foot-1-inch Bamba Fall. The team hosts TCU with six of its top seven scorers returning.

“I think we’ll have a great effort. I can’t guarantee we’ll win it, but I would be shocked if we don’t have great effort and good execution,” Doherty said. “I think we’ll be a smarter team.”

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