Written by Phil Cerroni
By Will Jukes
Garland, TX- SMU men's basketball played it's last regular season game against UTEP March 9th at Garland's 7,000 seat Curtis Culwell center. The game ended with a loss for the Mustangs, 76 to 63, as they head into tournaments next weekend. SMU fell behind early in the first half, allowing a gap to form that they could never fully close.
UTEP played an aggressive game, and it showed in the stats; top scorer Julian Washburn was 9 for 13 from inside the three-point line and 1 for 2 from the three-point line. For comparison, SMU's Shawn Williams went 4 for 12 and 0 for 2, while Cannen Cunningham was 7 for 7 and 0 for 0. The game got vicious, with both teams winding up in bonus by the end of the game, and SMU winding up with double bonus. Despite this advantage, the Ponies were unable to overcome the driven, aggressive play of UTEP.
“When I got the job and then I saw our team I expected a lot of games like this, to be honest with you. Score wise, not effort wise,” said head coach Larry Brown, who took the helm of SMU men's basketball last spring. Brown complemented UTEP's coaching and playing, but also emphasized what he perceived to be a lack of effort on the part of his player's as a factor in the day's loss.
“We had great effort most nights...but tonight was real disappointing for us,” he said, despite the effort of Shawn Williams and Manuel Ryans, whom he cited. He also emphasized that this was not a recurring problem in his opinion. “We were in every game, except two UTEP games and Rhode Island, I really believe that,” he said.
The confusion and discomfort of relocating to the Culwell Center was also cited as a possible factor. “They had more fans than we did, more people cheering,” said Brown. The Mustangs will be playing in the Curtis Culwell Center while their traditional home, Moody Coliseum in Highland Park, TX undergoes 47 million dollars worth of renovations.
The loss put SMU at 15-16 going into tournament play, while UTEP faces a more auspicious 17-13 record and will go into conference finals boosted by a strong win. Despite this, SMU isn't giving up just yet. Brown wants to focus on program building, and hopes to improve SMU's postseason showing. SMU has only won one tournament game in the school's history. SMU begins tournament play Wednesday March 13th in Tulsa, facing off in the conference championships in a matchup to be determined.