The Big Boys
Hats off to Shawn Williams and Cannen Cunningham. As Jalen Jones found himself in foul trouble all night, and Larry Brown making an executive decision not to play Jordan Dickerson, both Williams and Cunningham played all 40 minutes of the game. Each were crucial in the victory, with Shawn leading the team in points and shooting 7 for 11 from the floor, while Cunningham finished second on the team in points with 13, and led the team in rebounds with 13. The two also showed up on the defensive end of the floor with each totaling three blocks and really limiting the Rice big men all game. Williams and Cunningham will find relief in the thought that they won't have to play the entire game many more times, as reinforcements are on the way next year with Yanick Moreira, Blaise Mbargorba and Markus Kennedy ready to provide some help down low.
A good redemption game for London Giles, as last game he earned himself a spot in the 3 down section of this article. Against Rice however, he played very well. Giles played 25 minutes, mostly because of the foul trouble Jalen Jones found himself in. Giles responded well to the extra playing time, and finished with six points, and sprinkled in a few assists and rebounds as well. Giles did not have a particularly good shooting night, going 1 for 4 from the floor but played stout defense, and found gaps in the Rice defense all night to help set up teammates. If Giles can improve on this encouraging performance and continue to get better and gain confidence, he could be an asset off the bench come the Conference-USA tournament.
Getting To The Free Throw Line
Larry Brown and Co. obviously saw something in the scouting report that encouraged them to feed the ball down low and get into a transition offense as much as possible against the Owls, which led to SMU getting to the charity stripe 30 times. Leading the effort was Cunningham, who got to the line a total of 14 times, converting nine of them. As a whole, SMU was a smooth 70 percent from the line. In past games SMU has struggled to attack the basket and get to the line but came out attacking today, and it paid off.
Turnover, Turnovers, Turnovers
Despite a 15-point halftime lead, all SMU fans knew this game was far from over. As SMU has done all too often this year, it let their opponent back into the game despite a comfortable halftime lead and tonight was no different. SMU committed an embarrassing 17 turnovers, and everyone was to blame. The two guards, Nick Russell and Ryan Manuel combined for six, while Shawn Williams had five. In a game where SMU was clearly the superior team, their lack of ability to handle ball almost lead to a loss, one in which SMU would have contributed more to it than Rice. Without a true point guard turnovers have been a problem all year, and Mustang fans should be ecstatic for next year when Nic Moore, a true point guard, will be handling the ball.
This is where Jones's foul trouble hurt SMU the most. All year the Mustangs have dominated the offensive boards and getting easy second chance points by following the charge of Jones. But with Jones on the bench for half the game, no player stepped up and filled his role of crashing the offensive glass. Any coach will tell you rebounding is about hustle, and without Jones to set a proper tempo for the game, SMU didn't get the second chance points it is so accustomed of getting.
Coming off a game where SMU gave up a barrage of threes to ECU, you would have thought Ryan Manuel and Nick Russell would have come to play with a chip on their shoulder, but they did not. The small Rice backcourt combined for 36 points and was a thorn in SMU's side all game. Whether off simple dribble penetration or shooting the three, the Rice guards had Maunel and Russell's number all night. 5-foot-9 Rice freshmen Max Guercy played especially well, shooting for a very good percentage and often beating his defender off the dribble all game. As I've said all year, although Nic Moore is known as a shooter, his presence on defense next year may be more important than his offensive abilities.
3 Up, 3 Down
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