Basketball

With Kendric Davis in His First Extended Slump, SMU Heads into Stretch of Near Must-Wins

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — Nearly an hour after the SMU narrowly escaped from Memphis on Thursday night, Kendric Davis was still on the floor, shoes on, game shorts ready and his undershirt soaked in sweat.

He started in the right corner, hoisting shot after shot in a mostly empty arena. A handful of team managers shagged balls, and media members looked on, but Davis clearly wanted this to be a solitary intervention between himself and the basket.

When he missed one, he would wind it back through his mind. Maybe he would replay a shot he missed in the game in between rebounds.

Finally, after about 30 minutes of relitigating nearly every miss in a 2-of-13 shooting night, he walked off the court.

“I’ll be alright,” he said to nobody in particular.

Then, he tweeted as much in the locker room.

“Don’t worry about my slump… I am a winner and find other ways to impact the game,” Davis typed out on the social media app.

But since then, SMU’s star point guard followed Memphis’ performance with an equally frustrating game at Houston. There, Davis went 2-of-9 from the floor and finished with 11 points. It capped off a week where the normally steady guard has undergone his worst stretch in SMU uniform.

In the last three games, Davis is now shooting 8-of-36 from the field. From behind the three-point line, he has connected on two of his last 15 tries. He went nearly 90 game minutes in between made three-point shots.

“I don’t think him having three bad games — it’s not his fault at all,” forward Feron Hunt said. “I don’t think every player can play their game every game. Even Michael Jordan didn’t do it, so I don’t expect him to do it. He’ll bounce back.”

But the question is, how quickly will that bounce back happen? As the calendar turns to February, and SMU stares down must-win games nearly the rest of the way to play itself into the tournament, its top priority will be getting Davis back on track.

His contributions to the team are hard to overstate. Davis is ranked third in the nation in assist rate. He ranks second on the conference in free throw percentage, fourth in percentage of minutes played and sixth in the percentage of possessions where Davis is used.

On the most offensively reliant team in the American Conference, according to kenpom.com, SMU goes as Davis does.

“SMU is the best offense in the league because they got the best point guard in the league,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said of Davis last week. “Everything starts with Kendric Davis. He’s terrific.”

And this is the part of the season where SMU needs Davis more than ever. In the final month, a race to see if SMU can make its case to make the tournament, SMU will have to be close to perfect.

Currently it sits at No. 61 in the NET ranking, dropping from No. 52 after a loss to Houston. That puts it on the outside looking come Selection Sunday.

There are no obvious resume burnishers left on the schedule, so the path for now looks as though SMU needs to win out to slowly climb back into the picture. It will only get there, though, with Davis at the helm.

There were flashes this week that looked like the Davis of old. In the first half against Houston. Davis knocked in two triples and single handedly kept SMU in the game against the No. 5 team in the nation.

He had eight assists on Thursday, including two key plays that led to SMU staving off a frenetic 17-2 run by Memphis in the final 10 minutes.

But more often this week it has been moments of frustration. He had a flagrant foul in the second half on Sunday, his first since coming to SMU.

Davis, when the game was well out of hand yesterday, was left on the court to try to spark anything on offense. Instead, a ball clanked off the rim and he looked perplexed.

When he finally came out, co-head coach Yaphett King stopped and hugged him.

“My message to Kendric is just, ‘Keep fighting, keep plugging along,” King said. “There’s no time to dwell on this loss, and I wanted to get our guys snapped back as quickly as possible. Because we play Tulsa on Wednesday, and Tulsa’s not going to care about the result today, they’re not going to care about our fatigue.”

“I just wanted to get his mind focused as quickly as possible.”

This week there will be Zoom meetings with head coach Tim Jankovich, who is still battling COVID-19, to try to right the ship.

Also, there will be more rest. After playing four games in eight days, SMU needs it, Davis included.

There are lots of solutions floating around from coaches. King openly mused about getting him involved earlier in the offense. Other times, he said, if the players around him start making shots he will benefit. SMU shot 32% from the field on Sunday.

Either way, SMU just needs Davis back. They all think he will be.

“I have no doubt in my mind he will jump back in there and be the Kendric Davis of old,” King finished.

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