SMU basketball moving in the right direction

Three nights after stunning Memphis in a signature win before a delirious home crowd, SMU fell back to earth Tuesday at Hattiesburg, Miss. Coach Matt Doherty still has some work to do in his rebuilding project, but things are looking on the upswing.


Three nights after stunning Memphis in a signature win before a delirious home crowd, SMU fell back to earth Tuesday at Hattiesburg, Miss.

Coach Matt Doherty still has some work to do in his rebuilding project.

The Mustangs carried a four-game streak into the game but fell 56-53 to the Golden Eagles when some familiar demons resurfaced.

The Mustangs (10-11, 3-4 Conference USA) got hurt at the free throw line, making just 6 of 12 shots while Southern Miss (13-8, 3-4) went 11-for-17 at the stripe.

Guard Derek Williams, who scored 25 points against Memphis, had another huge game Tuesday, scoring 24 points. He made 14 of 15 free throws against the Tigers. Against Southern Miss, he went 2-for-5 from the line.

SMU once again struggled on the road. The Mustangs are 8-5 at home but just 2-6 on the road. Their only road wins this season were against Occidental and Rice. During its four-game winning streak, three of SMU's victories came at home. The only road win was against struggling Rice.

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 56, SMU 53: Trailing by 10 points with a little more than a minute to play, the Mustangs waged a furious rally. SMU forward Papa Dia's 15-foot jumper cut the lead to 54-50. After a Southern Miss charge, SMU guard Derek Williams hit a 3-point shot, slicing the lead to 54-50 with 10 seconds left.

The Golden Eagles' Gary Flowers was fouled and missed both free throws, but Southern Mississippi's Kenny Ortiz rebounded the second miss and got the ball to Angelo Johnson, who was fouled. He sank two free throws to put the Golden Eagles up by three points.

Williams had a chance to force overtime, but his off-balance 3-point shot from just over the half-court line was off the mark at the buzzer

Williams led SMU with 24 points on 9 of 17 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Dia had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Mustangs.

Flowers led Southern Miss with 17 points.

--SMU shot 33 of 38 (86.8 percent) from the free throw line on Jan. 30 against Memphis. Coupled with the team's 15-of-19 (78.9 percent) showing on Jan. 27 against UCF and the Mustangs finished the week 48 of 57 (84.2 percent).

SMU, one of C-USA's worst free throw shooting teams on the season, was shooting 69.4 percent from the line as the week began.

--SMU's win over Memphis on Jan. 30 in Dallas was the first time Memphis lost a C-USA road game since March 2, 2006.

--Before their Jan. 30 win over Memphis, the Mustangs hadn't beaten their league's defending regular-season champion since the 2002-03 season, when SMU had wins over Tulsa and Hawaii, the previous year's co-Western Athletic Conference champions.

ON THE SPOT: Derek Williams and Papa Dia combined to score 35 points against Southern Miss. The rest of SMU's starters scored 10 points, and the bench added eight. Williams and Dia are going to need more help from their friends, especially on Feb. 10 when SMU plays host to red-hot UTEP, which was 6-1 in Conference USA and 15-5 overall through Tuesday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't play great, we played good, and we still won." -- SMU head coach Matt Doherty after a Jan. 30 win over Memphis.


SEASON RECAP: SMU won four straight after a one-point loss to UAB on Jan. 16. Included in that win streak were league wins over Rice, Central Florida and most impressively over Memphis on Jan. 30. The Mustangs have been doing it with defense and get a couple of the league's lower scoring teams (Southern Miss an Tulane) this week before a rematch with UTEP on Feb. 10.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Derek Williams, G-F Justin Haynes, F Papa Dia, F Robert Nyakundi, G Mike Walker. Key Subs -- G Paul McCoy, F Mouhammad Faye, G Rodney Clinkscales, F Frank Otis.

SMU 82, Houston Baptist 68
SMU 65, Central Florida 43
SMU 70, Memphis 60
Southern Miss 56, SMU 53

at Tulane, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. UTEP, Wednesday, Feb. 10
at Houston, Saturday, Feb. 13
vs. Rice, Wednesday, Feb. 17

IN FOCUS: SMU will hope to keep its defensive hot streak rolling Feb. 6 on the road against a Tulane team that has a season scoring average of just 59.4 points per game and was held to 40 points on Jan. 30 against Southern Miss. Tulane will be without second-leading scorer Kevin Sims (12.3 points per game), who broke his wrist Jan. 9 against UAB.

--G Rodney Clinkscales had a rough night off the bench Tuesday against Southern Mississippi. In 24 minutes, he scored three points on 1-for-7 shooting and had zero rebounds.

--G Derek Williams had five turnovers to go with his 24 points and six rebounds.

--Starting G Mike Walker played 11 minutes and went scoreless against Southern Miss. He took only one shot, a 3-pointer.

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