Depth in sports is a tricky thing: If you have it, you can survive a key player missing a game or another not performing well, but if you don’t, it could severely impact a team’s ability to execute its gameplan.
On Saturday against the Eastern Washington Eagles, the Mustangs experienced both aspects on its way to a 77-68 victory in front of another sellout crowd at the Moody Coliseum.
With junior forward Markus Kennedy still out of the line-up due to academic ineligibility the Mustangs got an early spark from newcomer Ben Emelogu. A transfer from Virginia Tech, Emelogu helped SMU jump out to an early 5-0 lead with a made jumper, steal and three-pointer on the subsequent possession — and while he only scored four more points the rest of the game, his impact was felt.
In the losses to Indiana and Gonzaga the Mustangs had similar starts, but were unable to keep the momentum and eventually trailed at halftime. On Saturday, the Mustangs were able to maintain the hot start and held a 43-35 lead at halftime. The team shot 53% from the field and 45% from beyond the three-point arc as the trio of foward Yanick Moreira, guard Nic Moore and guard Keith Frazier picked up where Emelogu left off and shot a combined 9-of-12 for a total of 27 points — including four three-pointers.
With the shuffling of the line-up that head coach Larry Brown has had to make because of the absence of Kennedy, Frazier has stepped up. On the night he finished the game with 17 points on only 7-of-8 shooting.
“He’s getting better,” said Coach Brown when asked of Frazier’s progression at SMU. “We gotta recognize when he is the game, he’s gotta get the ball; he shouldn’t be getting (just) eight shots he deserves more, he’s by far our best shooter.”
While Frazier struggled to get additional shots within the Mustangs offense, Eagles leading scorer, Tyler Harvey (19.8ppg), had no problem finding them on his end. On the way to a 24 point night, the sophomore took 20 shots, including 14 three-pointers. Fortunately for the Mustangs he started off slow and only made two of his seven attempts in the first half. Of the six shots he did make in the final 20 minutes of the game four were three-pointers, which kept the game closer than expected.
And while the Eagles “died” by the three tonight, only making 11 of 36 attempts, the over-reliance of the outside shot is what makes the Eastern Washington offense flow — in the three previous games EWU attempted 78 three-pointers and made 36.
Shortly after Harvey’s last three-pointer of the evening, which cut the lead to 60-51 with 8:03 remaining in the second half, the SMU depth paid dividends once again as it was Nic Moore’s turn to take over. On the way to finishing the game with 22 points, Moore scored 10 of the Mustangs final 16 points to keep the lead at a comfortable distance — he also dished out six assists as well on the evening.
Unfortunately for SMU, their depth will be tested moving forward as 5th-year senior Justin Martin left the game with an apparent leg injury midway through the second half. It is still unknown how much time he will miss, if any, but Coach Brown will be forced to shuffle his line-up even more. The biggest adjustment will involve keeping Ben Moore at the power forward position and using sophomore Sterling Brown more at the small forward position.
The Mustangs host the Arkansas Razorbacks this Tuesday at 7:30PM ET so may not be enough time for Coach Brown to do a lot of adjustments to the rotation. But one player that must step up in Martin’s absence is senior big man Cannen Cunningham, who only played four minutes against EWU due to a lack of energy according to Coach Brown.