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The SMU Mustangs came into Sunday’s game against the ECU Pirates struggling — and that’s putting it nicely — and in the first half, it looked as if the team was still trying to fight through the doldrums of having only won three games in its last seven. An 8-0 run to close the half not only gave the team the lead heading into the locker room but it may have restored confidence in the Mustang players on the way to the 74-63 victory to move to 22-4 (10-4) on the year.
A championship still is within its grasp
Despite not having played well in the past seven game, SMU still held out slim hopes for being able to win the AAC regular season championship despite trailing Temple by one game in the standings. The victory over ECU kept the team within arms reach of the Owls with three games remaining and that gap closed even more when Temple was upset by Tulsa. SMU still needs another loss from Temple — while winning its remaining games against Tulane, UConn, and Cincinnati — but the players know now that it’s still a chance to raise a championship trophy at the end of the season.
The head of the snake is dangerous
Markus Kennedy called fellow senior Nic Moore the head of the snake on the team and as he has most of the season, led the attack the eventually led to the victory. Moore’s 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting was his ninth 20 point performance on the season and he continues to show why he is one of the best players in the nation. Even head coach Larry Brown still finds it hard to believe why Moore is not being included in the conversation as a legitimate Naismith award candidate. As he has done all season, Moore made use of his full scoring arsenal against the Pirates on Sunday — including a left-handed running jumper — to go along with seven assists.
The apprentice is waiting in the wings
While much of the talk locally is about Moore and his exploits, freshman Shake Milton has done a great job of learning from one of the best of the nation at his position and then apply it on the court. On the afternoon Milton finished with 10 points — including the first five for SMU to start the game — but what stood out the most about the young guard from Oklahoma was his ability to run the offense while Moore was resting on the bench. Coach Brown admitted that along with Moore, Milton too may be playing more minutes than he had hoped to start the season but with a severely diminished bench, he has no other option. But even with the responsibility of pulling double duty — starting at shooting guard, but also sharing ball handling duties with Moore — Milton has adjusted well.
The Mustangs head to Memphis to take on the Memphis Tigers on Thursday evening. The Tigers are coming off a surprising 80-71 loss to lowly USF on Saturday, and if the heat wasn’t already on head coach Josh Pastner, it is now after the inexcusable loss to a conference bottom feeder. The one bright spot, in what many will call a disappointing season, is the play of freshman forward Dedric Lawson. The hometown hero is averaging 15 ppg and 9.3 rpg on the season and will give the Tigers an interior scoring option once Shaq Goodwin leaves after the season. Lawson could have used his help against the Bulls as Goodwin only scored six points on 2-of-10 shooting.