Mustangs start season off with a win

With a 78-49 victory over McMurry, SMU's young, fresh team gained a little bit of confidence Friday night. With nine new players, coach Matt Doherty was interested to see how his team would mesh in the season opener. The Mustangs were pretty good on defense, forcing McMurry to 25 turnovers, but they need to be better at rebounding. Offensively, they shot a solid 43 percent from the field.

SMU got Game 1 under its belt Friday with a 78-49 throttling of McMurry.

The Mustangs came into this game with some vengeance, as last year they only beat the War Hawks by three.

"We mentioned that a bunch, not to take anyone lightly," coach Matt Doherty said. "We've seen so many times in college basketball where teams get upset. I was curious to see the maturity of our guys. I think they were anxious to play a real game. They knew what happened last year and knew we needed to play better."

And as far as first games go, they did play better.

SMU shot 44 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range, they scored 27 points off of 25 forced turnovers and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 16:11.

"With so many new faces, I wasn't sure what I'd see," Doherty said, referring to his nine new players. "We played great on defense, had great energy, took care of the ball…it was great to see new guys out there in front of the crowd, which was a good crowd for our first game. I'm excited and proud of the guys."

Senior forward Robert Nyakundi led the team with 18 points and eight rebounds and sophomore point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas had five assists and a steal without a turnover.

The newcomers that stood out the most were freshmen Jalen Jones and Cannen Cunningham.

Jones had 11 points, an assist, a block and a steal.

"He certainly had a good night," Doherty said. "He's a very talented young man and does some things that make you realize he can be a special player. He's quick, he's long and he's so raw still. He's like a young horse and he's going to develop because he listens and is competitive. It will be interesting to see what he looks like as a senior."

Cunningham, one of the bigger players on the team at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, was solid defensively with three blocks and four rebounds, two defensive.

"Cannen could have easily started," Doherty said. "He's a skilled big guy that has a good feel and a good touch and can pass."

Defensively, SMU held McMurry to 29 percent shooting from the field, but they gave up 20 rebounds.

The Mustangs were outrebounded 46-35. Without Papa Dia, the Mustangs graduated leading rebounder (averaged 9.6 rebounds per game in 2010), being aggressive on the boards will have to be a job done by committee rather than from one player.

"That's a big concern of mine," Doherty said. "But we'll get a lot of help there when Leslee Smith comes back."

Smith, a 6-7, 255-pound forward, is recovering from a torn ACL and won't be ready to play until December.

One of Doherty's main worries this season is how all of his new players will mesh on the court. This was a good opponent for SMU to start out with so the younger players could build confidence. The chemistry will come as the season goes on.

"The more reps we get in, the more time we spend together, the better the nucleus of the team comes together," Samarrippas said. "We'll find out who can do what, who can post up, who can shoot. It'll come."

Overall, a successful outing for the Mustangs.

"Lots of players are starting to build their own confidence just by getting the first actual game out of the way," Nyakundi said. "Now, every game counts. This is for real, so [the win] gives us confidence."

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