By Andy Lohman,
SMU men’s basketball opened American Athletic Conference play with a win for the fifth straight season, this year with an emphatic 82-54 win over East Carolina inside Moody Coliseum on Wednesday night.
What looked like a back-and-forth game for the first 10 minutes quickly turned into a blowout mere moments into the second half thanks to a monster run by the Mustangs to bride the halves.
Down 18-15 midway through the first half, SMU ended the period on a 20-7 run to go into the locker room up 35-25. An electric run sparked by senior guard Jahmal McMurray pushed the lead to 45-25 in just over two minutes.
After making the last basket of the first half, McMurray hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions early in the second half to force ECU into a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, sophomore forward Isiaha Mike forced the Pirates into a turnover at midcourt that sprung McMurray on the fast break, where he threw down a one-handed dunk. The big run was capped off by a powerful put-back dunk by senior guard Jarrey Foster to give SMU the 20-point lead.
McMurray finished with a game-high 20 points, his ninth consecutive double-figure scoring effort and his third 20+ game this season.
“In my opinion what changed is we got the rust off,” head coach Tim Jankovich said. “From the rest of that point on I thought we played outstanding. You couldn’t hope for a better first ten minutes of the second half.”
The win was the first game for SMU since an 81-53 win over Cornell on Dec. 22.
“You can try to say it was the break, but it really just came down to we came out flat,” junior guard Jimmy Whitt Jr.said. “That’s one of the things that make great teams great: you come out slow and pick it up. You change your play, you change your mindset in the middle of a game and start playing hard and start playing intense.”
Whitt added 17 points to SMU’s cause on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor with a deadly accuracy from mid-range. His 17-point performance followed a career-high 22 against Cornell, where he went 10-for-11 in the first half.
“I think last time it was more obvious with the first half and everything, but actually I like this game better because I feel like I played more consistent both halves instead of being hot one half and cooling off the second half,” Whitt said.
Beyond scoring, the Mustangs pushed past the Pirates behind solid defense and rebounding. Foster had a season-high seven rebounds while freshman forward Feron Hunt set a career high with 12 boards.
SMU held East Carolina to 33.9 percent shooting from the field, including 20 percent from three-point range.
“One of the better ones for sure,” senior guard Nat Dixon said. “Guys sitting down, being resilient, busting through screens, playing as hard as they can, and a lot of communication.”
The Mustangs finished with five players in double figures, the seventh time this season with at least four with 10+ points. SMU is 7-0 in those games. In addition to McMurray’s 20 and Whitt’s 17, Mike and Dixon each added 11 and sophomore forward Ethan Chargois scored 10.
In addition to winning seven of their last eight games, the Mustangs have now won 10 straight against ECU. SMU has not lost to the Pirates since both schools have been members of the American Conference, going 8-0 in conference games and winning both meetings in the AAC Tournament.
SMU now has a quick turnaround, taking its 1-0 AAC start to New Orleans to face Tulane on Friday, Jan. 4 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.