Living up to potential
SMU clinched their biggest win of the season in a 65-43 victory over the University of Central Florida Knights (10-10, 2-4) Wednesday night in Moody Coliseum.
Holding UCF off by at least six points throughout the entire game, the Mustangs (9-10, 2-3) never faltered, as they went on to record their second largest winning margin in conference play and hold their opponent to the second lowest point total.
“It was a fun game from start to finish,” head coach Matt Doherty said. “I thought our defense really set the tone. They put us in position to have a good first half until we changed our tempo offensively.”
Senior Derek Williams, with 12 points and 10 assists, became the first player in SMU history to get a double-double in points and assists since Bryan Hopkins did it in November of 2002.
“I didn’t know Derek would be this good,” Doherty said. “He’s been really sensational. He’s fast and tough.”
Although Williams set SMU records, it was sophomore Robert Nyakundi that prevailed for the Mustangs. Midway through the first half and just when it looked like the Mustangs would surrender the lead, Nyakundi came through in the clutch, sinking back-to-back three pointers after nearly five minutes of SMU not scoring. He put the Mustangs ahead 19-7 with 7:27 left in the first half.
Nyakundi went on to finish the night with a game-high 18 points, paired with a perfect 4-4 performance from the free throw line.
SMU’s win over UCF also denied head coach Kirk Speraw of becoming the coach with the most wins in UCF’s history.
SMU ended the half at 41-16, crushing their opponent by 25 points after shooting 7-of-12 from the long range and 54 percent from the field. Junior, Papa Dia and Nyakundi with seven and 14 points, respectively, combined for over half of the Mustang’s first-half points.
“At halftime you’re up 25 points and your biggest concern was thinking about UAB,” Doherty said. “We wanted to finish the job and I thought we did a pretty good job of that. I’m very proud of the effort and it was a team effort.”
The second half started out slow, with the Mustangs scoring only four points in six minutes. SMU’s defense, however, led by Justin Haynes with seven boards, allowed the Knights to score only 27 points in the second half.
SMU finished the night shooting 53 percent from the field and 44 percent in three’s topped off by a 79 percent performance from the charity stripe. Wednesday night’s game was the fourth consecutive time the team has shot over 50 percent.
The Knights, in comparison, hit only 17 of their 47 attempts from the field, led by Keith Clanton with 11 points. Marcus Jordan, son of NBA legend Michael Jordan, finished the night with only six points, over six points below his point per game average.
It wasn’t just Jordan’s son that struggled against a fired up SMU defense, the Knight’s struggled for boards as the Mustangs pulled down 29 rebounds compared to the UCF’s 27.
The Knight’s performance from the line also hurt the visiting team, as they surrendered their second consecutive loss, shooting just 38 percent in free throws.
The win over UCF marked the first time this season the Mustangs have strung together three consecutive victories in the wake of last week’s wins over Rice and Houston Baptist.
“Winning does a lot. Losing is hard. I’ve been getting kicked in the gut for 3 1/2 years and I know this was a rebuilding project,” Doherty said. “Winning makes the food taste better, the flowers look brighter, the jokes are funnier.”
The Mustangs host the reigning Conference USA Champions this weekend at the University of Memphis Tigers (15-5, 5-1) come to Moody Coliseum on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The SMU athletic department has organized a “Red Out” against the Tigers. Fans that attend the game will receive a free red t-shirt, courtesy of the SMU athletic department.