By Keith Whitmire, The Sports Xchange
DALLAS — With a share of the conference championship on the line, Semi Ojeleye made sure No. 14 SMU didn’t stumble a second year in a row at home against Tulsa.
The junior forward produced a 9 for 9 shooting night for 26 points in a 93-70 dismantling of Tulsa, the last visiting team to win at Moody Coliseum.
With their 21st consecutive home win, the Mustangs clinched at least a share of the American Athletic Conference regular-season title. Tulsa won at SMU 82-77 on Feb. 10, 2016.
“We knew they were the last team to win here at Moody, but all year we’ve set a goal to win a conference championship,” said Ojeleye, who was 3 for 3 from 3-point range. “It wouldn’t have mattered who it was tonight.”
The Mustangs (26-4, 16-1 AAC) can clinch the conference championship outright with a win against Memphis at home Saturday. SMU also clinched the No. 1 seed in next week’s AAC tournament.
The Mustangs’ 16 conference wins are a school record. SMU also won the AAC regular-season title two seasons ago.
“Any coach will tell you that the toughest thing is to try to compete for a conference championship,” Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich said. “It is a long, hard, uphill battle with a lot of things in the way and things to overcome… I’m just really, really proud and happy for all of them.”
SMU guard Sterling Brown hit four 3-pointers and scored 19 points, followed by guard Jarrey Foster with 18 and guard Shake Milton with 15. The Mustangs shot 60 percent for the game.
“It made it a lot easier because we had a lot of guys that were really hot tonight,” Jankovich said.
Milton also had 10 assists for a double-double. With Ben Moore contributing 12 points and seven rebounds, all five SMU starters scored in double figures.
“It would be easy for anybody on this team to get a double-double the way we share the ball,” Milton said. “Everybody’s unselfish and everybody’s looking to knock down shots when they’re open.”
Guard Corey Henderson led Tulsa (14-15, 8-9 AAC) with 17 points off the bench. Forward Junior Etou added 13 and seven rebounds.
Early on Thursday, it became apparent the Golden Hurricane wasn’t going to pull off another win on SMU’s floor.
SMU held Tulsa to 23 percent shooting in the first half while the Mustangs shot a blistering 67 percent.
A pair of 3-pointers by Ojeleye and Sterling Brown capped a 15-2 run as SMU went up 24-14 with 11:28 left in the half. That was followed by a 9-0 run and an Ojeleye bucket pushed the lead to 43-23 with four minutes left in the half.
The Mustangs’ lead eventually grew to 22 points before settling for a 47-28 advantage at halftime.
SMU kept the pressure going in the second half and quickly stretched its lead to 61-31, less than four minutes in.
“Give SMU credit, they shot the lights out of the ball. They were really aggressive and attacking us,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said.
“We ran into a buzz saw, but I thought our toughness needed to be better. Our competitive spirit needed to be better. We came up against some adversity and we didn’t handle it very well.”
The Mustangs led by as much as 36 in the second half. And that was with SMU down to six scholarship players for much of the game after guard Ben Emelogu twisted an ankle and played only 11 minutes.
Tulsa managed to become the fifth opponent to outrebound SMU this season. The Golden Hurricane grabbed 35 rebounds, including 15 offensive boards, to SMU’s 28.
“We kept fighting to the end, and that was a positive,” Haith said. “There’s no question it could have gotten really, really nasty there.”