GAMES NOTES: In a Lone Star State battle the SMU Mustangs will square off with the Houston Cougars in Conference USA action at Hofheinz Pavilion on Wednesday night.
In its conference opener on Sunday, SMU was taken down by Tulsa, 48-47, in a stunning defeat that ended on a 3-pointer from the Golden Hurricanes with 3.8 seconds left on the clock. The loss was the second straight for SMU, both decided by three points or fewer, and dropped the Mustangs to 10-6 overall. That has included a mere 3-2 mark against teams on the road. SMU will be back home in its next two contests against Tulane and Southern Miss.
This is the final contest of a six-game homestand for Houston as well as the Cougars' conference debut this year. Houston is sporting an impressive 11-2 mark as league play gets underway after posting its sixth straight win last Thursday with a 96-71 rout of Texas-Pan American. Houston has enjoyed playing at home this season with an 8-1 mark at Hofheinz Pavilion. A two-game road stint awaits the Cougars beginning against Southern Miss on Saturday.
Last season these two teams split the season series with the home team victorious in each contest. SMU has won three of the last five meetings overall, but still trails the all-time series by a hefty 43-24 margin.
Both SMU and Tulsa shot worse than 35 percent from the field in a game that lacked a ton of offensive punch on Sunday. SMU did mange to hold a 17-2 edge from the free-throw line but that was outweighed by Tulsa's 24-0 advantage on points from beyond the arc.
In Larry Brown's first season as head coach, the Mustangs have struggled offensively. SMU is ranked 10th in the conference in points per game (64.4) while just a bit better in field goal percentage ( ninth at .440). Rebounding has been another area of weakness as the Mustangs have brought in just 33.8 boards per game. Where Brown has been able to get his squad to play at a high level is on defense, limiting teams to 59.5 points per game. The trio of Jalen Jones, Nick Russell and Ryan Manuel have been the most productive weapons for SMU. Jones (14.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is the top option, while also managing to crash the boards well. Russell (13.9 ppg, 4.2 apg) has been scoring and distributing with equal effectiveness, while Manuel (12.1 ppg) also clocks in as a double- figure scorer. Depth is an issue though as only two other players score more than four points per game.
Led by a 25-point outburst from Joseph Young, who hit a season-high seven triples, Houston was easily able to take out Texas-Pan American. Houston shot better than 54 percent in the game, including a 13-of-24 effort from beyond the arc. The Cougars controlled the boards with a 37-24 edge in rebounds and a 24-10 advantage in second chance points.
Attacking the glass has been one of the biggest keys to Houston's success this season. The Cougars top C-USA in rebounds (41.5 pg), while ranking 14th nationally. Houston's lofty production doesn't stop there as the conference's top scoring team (79.9 ppg) is also ranked 14th in the country in points per game. Anchoring it all from the interior is TaShawn Thomas (17.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg) who has been an absolute force in the frontcourt. The 6-foot-8 forward is in the top five in the conference in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Thomas has also gotten a ton of scoring help from Young (17.4 ppg), who has five games of more than 20 points. Young relies heavily on his 3-point shot, which has served him well as he has hit 47.7 percent of his shots from long range.
Although SMU has played well defensively, it won't have an answer for Thomas. In this contest the Cougars will be just too much for the Mustangs to handle.