The Mustangs' defense will be in the spotlight as it tries to slow up a Cougars offense that poured in 92 points against a normally stout Memphis defense.
SMU (13-14, 6-7) has held 11-of-13 opponents below their average with nine of them at least 11 points under their average. It held Houston (14-13, 6-7) more than 12 points below its scoring average.
In the first meeting between the teams, SMU held Houston to 32 percent shooting from the field. The difference was at the foul line, where the Cougars made 18 of 20 attempts, including eight in a row in the final minute.
The teams appear fairly evenly matched, with SMU's stout defense looking to hold Houston in the 60s once again and the Cougars' high-scoring offense looking to outscore the Mustangs by jumping out to a big lead.
SMU 59, EAST CAROLINA 54: The Mustangs (13-14, 6-7) once again rode their defense, which ranks second in Conference USA in scoring defense in league play, as they held the Pirates (9-18, 3-10) to 38.8 percent shooting from the floor in coming away with the win that boosted them over the .500 mark.
Coach Matt Doherty's squad led 26-20 at the intermission and never trailed in the second half, building a 46-34 lead with 12:23 to play on a three-pointer by junior guard Mike Walker. However, the Pirates cut the lead to one 48-47 with 6:57 left. Mustangs senior forward Mouhammad Faye answered with a clutch three-pointer to make it 51-47 and SMU held on for the win.
Senior guard Derek Williams led the team in scoring with 13 points in 40 minutes of play. Junior forward Papa Dia (10 points, six rebounds) was the lone other Mustang in double figures. Faye and sophomore swingman Justin Haynes added eight points apiece.
The Mustangs have now won six games in C-USA, the most since joining the league in 2005-06. The three conference road victories are also a team best.
--For at least the second time in Conference USA play this season, the SMU Mustangs let a frustrating loss turn into post-game frustrations on the court. First, Mustangs coach Matt Doherty had words with Alabama-Birmingham's Mike Davis after SMU lost on Jan. 16 and Doherty felt the Blazers were celebrating too much.
After a Feb. 20 loss at Memphis, a game in which Doherty was jawing with fans throughout the second half, the coach and players had words with their Tigers counterparts.
"It was just one of those things in the heat of the moment after the game," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "Some words were exchanged by some of the players. I was trying to get in there just to make sure there were no incidents, and you know people were upset, but it was no big deal. It was just the heat of the moment."
Doherty, whose team had lost three of its last four after the Memphis defeat, attributed his interaction with the fans during the game to their knowledge of basketball, not any sort of frustration he or his players are feeling about their recent struggles.
"This is a basketball town and the fans here are good," Doherty said. "It's give and take and they give me a hard time so I gave them a hard time."
--The 16 assists SMU dished out in a Feb. 17 win over Rice were the most the Mustangs have had in a Conference USA game this season.
--The 15 3-pointers Memphis made against SMU were the most against the Mustangs this season and the second most made by a Conference USA team this season.
ON THE SPOT: If the Mustangs hope to make some noise in the C-USA tournament, they'll have to continue playing the solid defense that has become a staple for them under head coach Matt Doherty.
However, they'll also need to continue taking care of the ball by limiting turnovers. On the season, they are making nearly two turnovers per conference game less than last season. Against East Carolina, SMU got a little careless with the ball after building a comfortable 46-34 lead with 12:23 left and turned the ball over seven times as the Pirates rallied to cut the lead to one with 6:57 left and hung close the rest of the way.
Senior guard Derek Williams struggled down the stretch in the 59-54 win over ECU, with three turnovers and a missed foul shot. The Mustangs can't afford to have their scoring and assists leader off his game like that going forward.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "SMU is fighting and playing hard. They are a good team and well-coached." -- Memphis head coach Josh Pastner after beating SMU on Feb. 20.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: After losing Feb. 20 to Memphis, a team SMU beat by 10 on Jan. 30, the Mustangs were visibly frustrated and had lost three of their last four games and five of their last seven. SMU went from being a dark horse contender in the league to being ranked ninth in the 12-team league after the Memphis loss.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Derek Williams, G/F Justin Haynes, G Rodney Clinkscales, F Papa Dia, F Robert Nyakundi. Key Subs -- F Mouhammad Faye, G Mike Walker, F Frank Otis.
Houston 66, SMU 60
SMU 67, Rice 57
Memphis 76, SMU 63
SMU 59, East Carolina 54
Houston, SMU's Feb. 27 opponent, is struggling to find much scoring beyond guards Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis. Then again, when Coleman is among the nation's leaders in scoring and Lewis can go off for 20-30 on any given night, maybe that's all they need.
--Senior G Derek Williams scored a team-best 13 points in Wednesday night's 59-54 win over East Carolina. He has 10 or more points in all but four games this season.
--Sophomore G-F Justin Haynes tied a season-high with seven rebounds in the Mustangs' win over East Carolina on Wednesday night.
--Sophomore G Rodney Clinkscales had a season-high three steals in the win over East Carolina on Wednesday.