SMU's Perfect Season Dreams May Be Dashed, But These Mustangs Are Still On An Historic Run.
Two weeks ago, the SMU Mustangs predicted their own demise.
After a narrow 59-57 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats, senior forward Markus Kennedy said the following:
“If a team gets hot and is going on a run, we just stand tall. We can't let that affect us. If the ball's going in in the first half, [we] put a little more pressure on them. If the ball's going in in the second half, they're going to beat anybody in the world. So, at the end of the day, if they're just hitting a bunch of threes, we just gotta live with it. They're not gonna keep hitting shots.”
And yet on Sunday afternoon, the Temple Owls did just that: They kept hitting shots and, by the time the buzzer rang out in Philadelphia, they'd put an end to SMU's hopes of a perfect season, finishing up with an 89-80 victory over the Mustangs.
Temple's Devin Coleman and the 23 points he scored broke the Mustangs' back the most. He made 100 percent of his shots, going seven-for-seven from the three-point line and keeping the Mustangs' comeback attempts at bay. In fact, the Owls basically gave up trying to score baskets in the paint against SMU's tough interior defense, instead settling for scoring from the perimeter with a full 50 percent of their total shots coming from beyond the arc, 14 of which they sank.
Not helping matters was the fact that the Mustangs' own best three-point shooters, Nic Moore and Sterling Brown, missed all seven of their attempted threes. Brown still led the team with 19 points and scored big baskets to kill the Owls' momentum at times, but after getting into foul trouble early, he was only able to play 26 minutes. And, much as they tried, the Mustangs just couldn't get momentum on their side long enough to overcome deficits as large as 19 points over the course of the game.
And so now, the pursuit of perfection is over for SMU.
But the opportunity for a dream season of sorts still very much remain alive. That's a sentiment head coach Larry Brown subtly tried to stress earlier this year as his team began the season with an impressive 18-0 start and stood as the last undefeated team in the country. Throughout the team's perfect start, Brown smartly avoided the word “undefeated” at every pass, instead deflecting the focus to concepts such as having fun and playing hard for the three seniors on the roster. Let's just be real: Fun a run as it was, the likelihood of SMU finishing the season undefeated was slim, and lessening the blow of an eventual loss with this kind of language affords Brown the chance to keep his team's spirits high even as all other tangible answers to the question of “What is this team playing for?” start to fall by the wayside.
Still, the last thing SMU should feel at this point, with just one blemish on their record, is defeated. The team is still in the middle of an impressive season and can still prove plenty in the 11 games it has left to play.
That much was evident when Temple fans stormed the court after their team's win. Beating SMU is a major accomplishment, and the Mustangs are still the cream of the American Athletic Conference, boasting the league's best record. Likewise, toppling SMU remains a potential resume-builder for teams looking for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. At 18-1, SMU also still holds one of the best records in the country and, with a strong finish to the season, it still has an outside chance at sitting atop the college basketball rankings at the end of the year.
No, this lost season may not be quite perfect any longer. But history rarely is, and this season still has every chance to be an historic one.
The next chapter in this storybook SMU season will be written on Saturday, January 30, as the Mustangs host the Memphis Tigers at Moody Coliseum.