Despite shooting 60%, and making multiple highlight-reel worthy plays — including an off the backboard alley-oop from Nic Moore to Ben Moore, the SMU Mustangs only held a 36-30 at the end of the first half. Part of the reason for the closer than expected deficit was the stellar play from UCF Knights guard Adonys Henriquez.
Coming into Saturday’s game Henriquez, a 6’6 freshman from Orlando Christian Prep, was averaging 10.9 ppg and shooting 40% from behind the three-point but in the first half he led the Knights with 14 points and had already made four three-pointers in six attempts — he was the only Knight player with multiple made field goals in the half.
Conversely the SMU Mustangs had five players make at least two shots and were lead by guard Ryan Manuel’s nine points on 4-of-4 shooting. The efficient shooting on the evening from the senior guard is a longstanding byproduct of head coach Larry Brown encouraging the guard to shoot more.
“I think he has to be a threat,” said Coach Brown. “But with him and Ben Moore every day I’m on them — shoot the ball and be more aggressive… but this is a neat night for him.”
With Keith Frazier out of the line-up indefinitely and guard Sterling Brown on the bench with two fouls, Manuel took advantage of the extra minutes on the night and it paid off as he finished the game with four rebounds and assists to go along with a season high 20 points.
To say this has been a season of great transition for guard Ben Emelogu, a transfer from Virginia Tech, would be an under statement. In his lone season in Blacksburg, the Grand Prarie, TX native averaged 10.5 points and shot almost 40% from the field but he has not been able to replicate that output since coming home. But on Saturday evening SMU fans got a glimpse of what could be an integral piece in a long tournament run as Emelogu scored nine points on three three-pointers.
If Manuel and Emelogu are able to continue playing well that should prevent teams from relying too heavily on zone defenses to limit the dominant interior play from the quartet of Ben Moore, Yanick Moreira, Markus Kennedy and Cannen Cunningham. Against the Knights, who actually held the size advantage with four players over 6’9, the SMU outscored UCF 46-22 in the paint and had 15 second-chance points from 10 offensive rebounds.
With the victory the Mustangs move to 18-4, 9-1 on the season and look to their match-up with the Cincinnati Bearcats on February 5th with revenge in mind. The Bearcats handed the Mustangs their only conference loss when they played on January 3rd at Fifth Third Arena. Cincinnati got 18 points from guard Farad Cobb who sparked an 11-0 run to turn a four point deficit into a seven point lead that they never relinquished.