Uncharacteristic defense made it scary
SMU held its last 19 opponents to 66 or fewer points and 15 of them to 60 or fewer. Wednesday, it allowed 42 in the first half, and in uncharacteristic ways. Tulane easily got into the lane off dribble drives and created open 3s, got cutters going to the rim when it moved the ball around, screened SMU defenders aggressively and forced SMU's defense to flatten out and rotate constantly. SMU had little issue keeping Cincinnati out of the lane and preventing its guards from cutting and driving to the basket. That's been the norm. For the first 20 minutes, that usually strong interior and on-ball defense was nowhere to be found.
The Mustangs' defense tightened up in second half. It allowed less drives and shots at the rim. Tulane burned SMU's press and traps early, but SMU forced bad passes when it used them in the second half. When guarding dribble drives, SMU made guards shoot while falling away from the rim and kept them from turning the corner to get to the basket. SMU also forced Tulane big men Ryan Smith and Blake Paul to shoot fading away from the basket in the second half, even when matched up one-on-one.
Tale of two Ojeleyes and Fosters
Semi Ojeleye's air-ball, line-drive jumper from the elbow early in the second half summed up the first 20 minutes of his night: out-of-sorts. SMU's leading scorer started 0-for-10 from the field and had just two points at halftime. He finished 4-for-7 and scored 18 points. Despite priding itself as interchangeable, SMU relies on him for so much. He did a little bit of everything in the second half: created open shots for others (even though they wren't all made), played defense and kept guards in front of him on drives.
Jarrey Foster was not exempt from SMU's first-half struggles either. He had four first-half points and one of his worse defensive halves of the season. He was dunked on when trying to play help defense under the rim. He scored 14 second-half points, including three dunks in the second half where he murdered a Tulane defender. His ability to get to the rim and use screens was absent in the first half, along with everyone else's.
Tulane's bigs stood no chance
If there was one consistent trend from SMU the entire game, it was Ben Moore repeatedly roasting Tulane's bigs off the dribble. He was too quick for Tulane's slow-footed big men Ryan Smith and Blake Paul. A lot of SMU's second-half offense was going four and five out with Moore on the perimeter, getting Moore going toward the rim as soon as a Tulane big man came out to stop. With the floor spread, Tulane couldn't help without opening up a shooter. When it did, SMU found the shooter. Whether it was Moore, Semi Ojeleye or a guard, SMU created shots or just took the easy layup at will. SMU may not have size to deal with bigger and athletic centers in the post, but Moore and Ojeleye have the quickness and passing ability to drive past other bigs and create.