SMU loses to UCF, 59-52

SMU drops fifth straight game to move to 2-7 in Conference USA, which is good for last place in the league. The Mustangs have eight games left, seven of which are conference matchups. They'll have to win all of them if they want to reach their goal of being better than last year's C-USA record of 8-8.

SMU lost its fifth straight game Saturday when UCF came to town and used a second half surge to beat the Mustangs 59-52.

This losing streak is the longest since the 2008-09 season when the Mustangs finished 3-13 in Conference USA.

Per usual, SMU (10-13, 2-7 C-USA) kept things close in the first half and went into halftime with a 29-28 lead after Aliaksei Patsevich knocked down two free throws in the final seconds.

But UCF (17-6, 6-3) opened the second half with a 14-4 run and the Mustangs fell flat.

"Down the stretch of the game, we gotta have better execution on offense and defense," freshman guard Jalen Jones said. "That's what's really hurting us."

The Knights out-muscled the Mustangs in many aspects of the game, especially on the glass, grabbing 34 rebounds to SMU's 24, including 14 offensive. UCF also got to the free throw line more and took advantage of second-chance opportunities.

"They're very big and we did an excellent job on first shot defense," head coach Matt Doherty said. "Once the ball goes up on the rim, especially when they shoot it close, their size and strength takes over and we don't have that this year."

Jones led SMU with 16 points, tying his career-high. Robert Nyakundi had 15 after missing the last game against East Carolina with a nagging hamstring (Doherty confirmed after the game Nyakundi has been receiving treatment on both hamstrings and his knee and missed all of practice this week). No other Mustang scored more than five points.

With just under five minutes to play, London Giles found Jones under the basket for a dunk. He drew a foul as well and made the free throw to put SMU within one, 49-48.

That was part of a short 8-0 run that gave the Mustangs some momentum, but it was short-lived as a couple missed shots in the dwindling minutes helped UCF clinch the win in the end.

Despite their struggles and the fact that they're ranked last in the conference, the Mustangs claim they aren't unraveling.

"Not one bit," Doherty said.

Added Jones of the locker room feel these days: "Everybody is staying positive. We know we can't get rattled because we're on a losing streak."

That kind of attitude was evident during pregame when the players were dancing in the black-light hallway where they wait and pump each other up before taking the court.

During the game, all in attendance were reminded there are more important things than wins and losses when Jones' father, Reginald Jones, was acknowledged for his presence as he's currently on leave from his military duties in Afghanistan. Jones is a First-Sergeant in the Army.

Jalen, who's developing into one of the team's go-to players, said the last time his dad saw him play basketball was last year's high school playoffs when he helped Kimball win the 4A State Championship (he had 19 points and nine boards and went an almost perfect 13 of 14 from the free throw line in the title game).

"It was great the way I played in front of him," Jones said.

Added Doherty: "I have a lot of respect for servicemen. I was worried Jalen might be too hyped to play in front of his dad, but I thought he was spectacular in terms of his poise and patience. If I were his dad, I'd think it was pretty cool to see your boy becoming a man and the player he is."

SMU has eight games left, seven of which are conference matchups. They'll have to win all of them if they want to reach their goal of better than last year's C-USA record of 8-8.

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