UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — It was SMU’s worst case scenario. Yor Anei had just picked up his fourth foul. A play later, fellow center Isiah Jasey followed suit, committing the basketball sin of fouling a guard 22 feet from the basket.
In the span of a minute, SMU lost nearly all of its front court depth. With 12 minutes left in the game, and Temple closing in on what was once a 12-point SMU lead, Tim Jankovich looked down at the bench and had only Jahmar Young Jr. left to play.
And this time the sophomore that hadn’t played in a game since Dec. 5 delivered. In direct and indirect ways, Young helped SMU turn a 56-52 lead into a double-digit blowout.
Churning out five rebounds, one which led to a timely Darius McNeil corner three, Young positioned the Mustangs to cruise to a 79-68 win over Temple.
“Kind of saved the day, didn’t he?” Jankovich said after the game. “So much foul trouble and I’m just really happy for him and proud of him. It is going to be a big boost for him.”
It is hard to overstate the contributions of Young. This was, even in January, a must-win game for SMU.
After dropping two games last week, one to Houston and another late-game collapse to Cincinnati, it would not afford to lose to a one-win Temple team. Staring down a road contest against Memphis and then a home date with Wichita State, this was the game it had to pick up.
In the last week alone, SMU had dropped from No. 37 in the NET rankings, the standings used by the NCAA committee to determine spots in the tournament, to No. 68. Being in the sixties in those rankings has the makings of a team on the outside looking in during Selection Sunday.
“(We needed) this one today. We are (now) moving in the right direction,” Feron Hunt said. “Now we get gatorade.”
“When we don’t win, we only get water in practice,” he finished.
But before Young came into the game, that Gatorade in practice wasn’t always a formality. Even against the American Athletic Conference’s worst team by record, SMU had to earn this win.
Temple hovered around between nine and four points for most of the second half. Each time SMU stretched the lead, usually behind a flurry of Emmanuel Bandoumel three pointers or Kendric Davis drives, Temple would hit a three of its own.
Brendan Barry, Temple’s graduate transfer, finished with 17 points and five three-pointers, 15 of which came in the first half.
Ultimately, though, SMU rebounded from its rough stretch a week ago. Even if it was catalyzed by an unlikely source, the Mustangs still finished with four players in double figures. Davis led the way with 20, followed by Hunt’s 18 and Bandoumel’s 16.
In a game that felt like it could teeter on another collapse, like the nine-point lead SMU lost last week to Cincinnati in the final three minutes last Thursday, this time it held firm. Temple did not score in the final three minutes of the game, unlike when the Bearcats finished the contest on a 15-3 run.
It spurned, as Jankovich had hoped, their own coach’s measurement of the team being “soft.”
“We don’t like that. We don’t want the label to be soft,” Hunt said. “So when he calls us soft, it strikes a nerve, and then we flipped the switch. And we’re going to try and keep flipping the switch and keeping the momentum.”
A Temple win won’t win over any hearts of anyone in the committee or in the national polls. But it was a game SMU still could not afford to drop.
In a league where SMU will have to keep pace in the AAC to be relevant come March, these are the games it has to win. Last year it didn’t, splitting the season against Temple. This year, thus far, it has.
“We needed to win, I mean c’mon. Last week we had a lead going into the half of both games,” Jankovich said. “ But close doesn’t get you anything. If we lost today, it would have been a tough pill to swallow. I mean, it is a big boost.”