Can they make a run?

SMU coach Matt Doherty said his program is past the point of moral victories, but the team can't help but be a little optimistic about how it performed in a pair of losses in the regular season to UTEP.

SMU coach Matt Doherty said his program is past the point of moral victories, but the team can't help but be a little optimistic about how it performed in a pair of losses in the regular season to UTEP.

In both games, SMU had a legitimate shot at winning, and it nearly came back in the closing minutes March 5 against the Miners.

"Hopefully we can build on that second half as we get ready for the conference tournament," Doherty said.

Doherty thinks that what might be most promising from the two UTEP near upsets was how the Mustangs were in each game down the stretch despite one of their two stars not having much success on offense. Junior forward Robert Nyakundi scored four and six points in the two UTEP losses. He averaged 15.9 points per game the rest of the season.

"Pap (senior power forward Papa Dia) is the first guy you want to stop on our team, and Rob is the second, so it's important other guys step up," Doherty said.

And those role players did that against the Miners.

One in particular who played well against UTEP this season was true freshman point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas. He scored 11 points in the first half of the Mustangs' Feb. 12 game with UTEP and had six points and, more important to Doherty, seven assists in the March 5 showdown.

"Jeremiah puts (us) in position to win games," Doherty said. "He's not going to be perfect, but he puts (us) in positions to win."

And that's more than most coaches can say about their freshman point guards, which is one of the reasons why Doherty thinks his team is poised for a solid postseason run -- regardless of what tournament the Mustangs may get invited to play in after the C-USA tournament.


THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--vs. Rice, C-USA tournament first round, El Paso, March 9

SMU's adjustments against Rice in the regular season from Game 1 to Game 2 were impressive, and the Mustangs will need to do it again to get past the Owls for a quarterfinal match 10 with No. 2 Tulsa. When SMU beat Rice on Jan. 29, Owls sophomore F Arsalan Kazemi nearly changed the outcome by himself, scoring 21 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. In the rematch, a Feb. 23 SMU overtime win, Kazemi was held to six points and nine rebounds.

FUTURES MARKET
While star forwards Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi are options No. 1 and 1-A, coach Matt Doherty seems to think the team became a viable contender for a deep C-USA tournament run when senior G Collin Mangrum and freshman PG Jeremiah Samarrippas finally settled into their roles. "When he (Mangrum) and Jeremiah kind of found their place on this team in mid- to early-January, that's when we started winning on a more consistent basis," Doherty said. "That started with the Memphis game at home (an SMU win on Jan. 12). They both came off the bench and sparked us to win." The two have basically been regular starters since.


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