SMU survives ECU in AAC Tournament opener

Ben dunk.JPG
SMU forward Ben Moore (00) dunks in the first half of SMU's 81-77 win vs. ECU on March 10, 2017. Photo credit: Mollie Mayfield

HARTFORD, Conn. – SMU’s first-round American Conference tournament game on Friday looked eerily similar to its first-round game two seasons ago.

Top-seeded SMU (28-4) beat ninth-seed East Carolina 81-77 Friday afternoon at the XL Center in the AAC tournament quarterfinals. In the same building, 728 days earlier, No. 1 seed SMU survived 15 ECU 3-pointers for a 74-68 win. Friday, the Pirates made 13 3s.

For a half, the game looked like the teams’ two prior meetings this season, which SMU won by 31 and 40. The Mustangs led 43-21 at the break. ECU shot just 30 percent in the first half and made two of its 11 3-point tries.

In the second half, though, ECU made 11-of-19 3-pointers (57.9 percent) and scored 56 points.

Kentrell Barkley, who didn’t score until less than a minute remained in the first half, scored 22 points in the second half. He made four 3-pointers.

The Pirates cut SMU’s lead down to 10 with 4:42 left, when Elijah Hughes made a layup. They trimmed it to five with 3:47 left when Caleb White made all three foul shots after Jarrey Foster fouled him on a 3-pointer.

Hughes’ layup with 3:13 left brought ECU within two. Ojeleye immediately answered with a 3-pointer. After a defensive stop, Sterling Brown converted a three-point play with 2:06 left that put SMU up 77-69.

ECU had one more run left. Hughes’ 3-pointer tied the score at 77 with 57 seconds left. Ojeleye put back a Sterling Brown miss 28 seconds to give SMU the lead back. He hit two free throws with 13 seconds left for the game’s final points.

Fresh off winning AAC Player of the Year, Ojeleye led SMU with 36 points and 12 rebounds. Both were game-highs. He proved too strong for East Carolina’s big men when they back-guarded him. He was too quick when ECU front-guarded him or guarded him on the perimeter. He had five chances for 3-point plays.

Sterling Brown added 16 points for SMU. Jarrey Foster scored nine, Ben Moore added eight and Shake Milton seven. Milton had a team-high five assists. Two of them came on Ben Moore dunks in the pick-and-roll.

The Mustangs attacked ECU 7-foot shot-blocker Andre Washington. He fouled out in 26 minutes of play, had just one block and four points. He also was called for a goaltend.

Even though it surrendered a 22-point halftime lead, SMU shot 57 percent in the second half.

Game Notes:

East Carolina out-rebounded SMU 32-31 and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds. SMU had just five offensive rebounds.

Ojeleye’s double-double was his fifth of the season. He had scored 30 points one other time this season, on Feb. 9 at Temple.

SMU gave up 50 points in a half for the first time since Nov. 25 at USC.

SMU will play the winner of fourth-seed Memphis and fifth-seed UCF at 3 p.m ET on Saturday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.