How it Happened
SMU beat ECU, holding off a late run to knock the Pirates off 81-77 in the second round of the AAC tournament. The Mustangs jumped out to a big lead early in the first half. They were getting to the paint with ease, and finished six dunks in the first half alone. Semi Ojeleye absolutely dominated in the first, tallying 17 points and nine rebounds before halftime. The highlight play off the half came when Ojeleye threw down a monster dunk on ECU's 7-footer Andre Washington. On defense, SMU was not giving anything up. ECU's best player, Kentrell Barkley had just two points at halftime.
The second half was a different story, as the Pirates tied the game with a three-pointer from Caleb White with under a minute to go. ECU caught fire from three in the second half, going 11-of-19 from beyond the arc. After scoring just two first half, Barkley had 22 points in the second half, but mishandled a backdoor cut with 15 seconds left, giving SMU the ball. With 1:11 left, ECU was down three with the ball after a Ben Emelogu offensive foul, which led to ECU tying the game. East Carolina fouled Ojeleye with 13 seconds left and a two-point lead. Ojeleye hit both free throws to give SMU a four-point lead, allowing SMU to close out the win. ECU's press gave SMU trouble towards the end of the game, allowing the Pirates to push SMU to its limit.
What it Means
SMU beat a team that they should have beaten, but not at all without ease. SMU is now 24-1 in their last 25 games. It would have been nice for SMU to have built a bigger lead in the second half, allowing Jankovich to get his starters some more rest, but that wasn't the case. The Mustangs' short rotation will be tested tomorrow as they will play their next game, with no days of rest. There's a lot to clean up from this game for SMU and the staff will look to reset the focus of the Mustangs in advance of its game on Saturday.
Player of the Game
Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye controlled the game from start to finish. He easily outmuscled ECU's big men, Andre Washington and Deng Riak, beating them for rebounds and buckets. Ojeleye's shot from three was not falling; he shot just 1-of-5 from 3, but he was still able dominate the game from the inside, finishing 12-of-19 from the field. Ojeleye finished with a career-high 36 points and 12 rebounds. While SMU floundered, Ojeleye willed the Mustangs to victory.
Tim Jankovich went deep into his bench in the first half, playing Dashawn McDowell, Jonathan Wilfong and Leo Kontopolous in the first half. It was sloppy overall for Jankovich's squad, fouling 17 times, above SMU's average, and turning the ball over 16 times.
SMU will play the winner of UCF and Memphis, on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT.