The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

2007-08 Mustangs lay foundation for the future

SMU mens basketball head coach Matt Doherty positions his defense.
John Schreiber
SMU men’s basketball head coach Matt Doherty positions his defense.

SMU men’s basketball head coach Matt Doherty positions his defense. (John Schreiber)

Inside head coach Matt Doherty’s office sits a limestone brick signed by the players and coaches of the 2007-08 SMU men’s basketball team. The stone is a symbol of the foundation of SMU basketball – a foundation which has been afflicted by hardships and heart-breaking losses throughout this season.

Tonight, when the second-ranked Memphis Tigers (28-1, 14-0) come to town, the Mustangs have a chance to build a mansion on that foundation and throw a coming-out party for all the country to see.

At the very least, the players on the Mustangs’ young roster will have a chance to prove they belong on the same court against top-notch competition.

“That’s why we scheduled to play (Memphis) twice a year,” said Doherty, whose Mustangs (9-18, 3-11) fell to Memphis 77-48 on Feb. 6. “That’s the only way we’re going to get better.”

Seven of the Mustangs’ 12 active scholarship players are freshmen, and the growing pains have been excruciating at times. For this reason, Doherty is thankful for the impact the three seniors have had on the young players’ growth.

Tonight, during the final home game of their careers, Jon Killen, Derrick Roberts and Paulius Ritter will be honored for helping shape the foundation of a program still under construction.

They will have an opportunity to finish with a bang. Memphis is the highest-ranked team they have faced in their careers, and the game will be aired nationally on CSTV.

“They’ve invested a lot and been through a lot,” said Doherty. “They helped lay the foundation for the future. Even though they won’t be there physically, they’ll be there in spirit when we’re winning 20 games and going to the NCAA tournament.”

Killen leads the team in points (13.1), assists (4.9) and minutes (35). He is the only player to have started all 27 games this season.

Roberts’ suffocating defense has made life miserable for his opposition. He held Conference USA’s leading scorer, University of Texas-El Paso’s Stefon Jackson, to zero points in two overtime periods on Saturday. The Mustangs won 99-96.

Ritter has started 16 games this season and scored a career-high nine points against UTEP.

Killen, Roberts and Ritter have been steady forces on a team that has struggled to find an identity this season.

At its best, SMU is one of the most dangerous three-point shooting teams in the conference. The Mustangs hit 11 of 22 three-point attempts, seven of those by Killen and four by Roberts in the victory over UTEP.

In that game, Killen finished with a career-high 33 and played all 50 minutes, rallying the Mustangs from a 13-point, second-half deficit.

“Without Jon, we’d be hard-pressed to have won any games,” said Doherty. “His leadership is going to be sorely missed next year.”

At its worst, SMU has looked like a young, hapless offense. The Mustangs are second to last in the league in points per game (63.9).

SMU has also struggled with turnovers. In a 28-point loss to East Carolina last Wednesday, the Mustangs had 12 first-half turnovers. They average 15.7 per game this season.

Most of SMU’s struggles have come on the road this season. The Mustangs are 0-7 against league opponents away from home this season, losing by an average of 20 per game.

On the other hand, the Mustangs have been tough customers at home. They are 3-4 in Moody during league play, and two of those losses came on buzzer-beaters.

They battled for emotional overtime wins over UTEP (tied for fifth in the conference standings) and Central Florida (fourth). They led the conference’s second place Alabama-Birmingham Blazers by nine points in the second half before stumbling down the stretch.

Tonight, Killen and Roberts are expected to start alongside junior Bamba Fall, and freshmen Ryan Harp and Papa Dia. With a win, the Mustangs will achieve a .500 record at home in league play.

The 7-foot-2-inch Fall has scored in double digits in 11 of 14 conference games and is coming off a career-best 19 points against UTEP. Fellow post player Dia averages 10 points and 6.8 rebounds this season. Harp will be making his 15th start.

SMU will finish its regular season at Rice on Saturday before beginning the Conference USA Tournament on March 12.

“The guys need to remember that this is not the last game of their season,” said Doherty. “I don’t want them to be spent when we play Rice on Saturday.”

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