That it’s good to have Coach Brown back home
Despite what you may think about what led to the nine-game suspension for Mustangs head coach Larry Brown, fans of the program realize how important he is to the team. Intirem head coach Tim Jankovich held things together in his absence, but this team operates differently when Coach Brown is on the bench. He made his official return courtside while the team was in Las Vegas during the Continental Tire Classic, but Saturday was his first time being back at the helm in Moody Coliseum and the crowd made sure to let the veteran coach know that they missed him. Faced with only having seven players at his disposal against the USF Bulls, Brown had little time to ease back into the role but did a good job managing minutes and keeping his already thin frontcourt out of foul trouble.
Freshmen no more
With 13 games now under their belts, it’s safe to say that Shake Milton and Jerray Foster are no longer freshmen. Because of a multitude of circumstances both have been thrust into the SMU rotation a lot earlier than expected, and while they have had their ups and downs, they have shown to be more than capable of handling the extra load in conference play. With Keith Frazier absent from the lineup against USF, both Milton and Foster had to step in for the talented guard for different reasons. Milton started at the off-guard position and while he did not have the shooting game he may have wanted — 3-of-10 for only nine points — the talented freshman led the team with five assists and allowed Nic Moore to operate more without the ball. Because of his length, Foster will now be called on to expand his game to be a better defensive player. As with most true freshmen, Foster may struggle with stronger opponents, but he does have the length and athleticism to make things hard for players on that side of the ball.
Sterling remains steady
This has been a great season of growth for the junior swingman. Not only has he improved statistically across the board but the staff now looks to him as being one of the leaders of the team and he has willingly accepted that role. Part of the team’s ability to persevere through this season is partly because of Sterling Brown and his desire to do anything to help the team win. On a night that the team struggled from beyond the three-point line, Brown continued to be consistent as he made three of his four attempts. As the level of competition picks up in conference play it will be important for him to continue to have the confidence to shoot from deep as teams begin to focus on Moore and Milton as perimeter options.
Bigger doesn’t mean better
Not only did the Mustangs go into the contest against the Bulls short-handed, they were undersized against a USF team that boasts five guys listed 6’8 or taller. Despite the size disadvantage the Mustangs frontcourt trio of Ben Moore (12 points 10 rebounds), Jordan Tolbert (eight points 10 rebounds), and Markus Kennedy (13 points and five rebounds) was not intimidated. Because of their stellar play up front, the team actually outrebounded USF 39 to 30 and dominated the offensive glass by corralling 16 offensive rebounds. Second chance points were key for the Mustangs as they were unable to find their stroke from deep — only making six baskets in 23 attempts from three.
UP NEXT: Cincinnati Bearcats (11-4, 1-1)
The Mustangs have another home game this Thursday against the 11-4 Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats are coming off a 76-57 win over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on January 2nd. The Bearcats offense is lead by senior guard Farad Cobb, who is averaging 12.3ppg and is coming off a 21 point performance against Tulsa. In the two games last season against the Mustangs, Cobb scored 18 and 14 points and was a catalyst to the Bearcats getting the season sweep over the Mustangs. In addition to Cobb, the Mustangs will have to contend with the frontcourt duo of Octavius Ellis (9.9ppg 7.4 rpg) and Gary Clark (9.6ppg and 8.3rpg).
Because of the shortened bench, it will be important for the Mustangs to stay out of foul trouble and find ways to use the length of the Cincinnati players against them with these new foul calling rules instituted by the NCAA.