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

Door closes on men’s basketball

MEMPHIS, Tenn.-A frustrating season came to just as frustratingan end Wednesday afternoon as the Mustangs fell in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament 59-52 against Southern Miss.

The saying goes that if one player is double-teamed then someone else is open. Wednesday afternoon, Ike Ofoegbu was double-teamed and Devon Pearson was the open player.

Pearson finished with a team-high 13 points and nine rebounds. Ofoegbu struggled against the added pressure and only scored five points, three of which came from the free-throw line.

“The difference was that the ball didn’t go through the hoop for us,” head coach Matt Doherty said.

The team finished the game shooting 36.5 percent from the floor, 28.6 percent from the three-point line and 53.3 percent from the free-throw line. It was the last number that Doherty said was most uncharacteristic of the SMU team.

On the season the Mustangs shot 71.7 percent from the free-throw line in conference play, making them the fourth-best team in C-USA. The seven points from missed free throws wound up being the final margin of victory for Southern Miss.

The Mustangs had nine conference losses of less than 10 points, so the seven-point loss in a close game was nothing new for this SMU team. The problem all season long has been getting shots to fall late in clutch situations.

“Last year the shooting percentages weren’t great either,” Doherty said. “So I think that part of it may be that is who we are.”

This year’s Mustangs team shot just one percentage point lower than last year’s team, and that came with the loss of Bryan Hopkins, who led the Mustangs in most offensive categories.

But there were moments when it looked like SMU couldn’t hit water if they shot the ball out of a boat.

SMU took a 19-17 lead with 10:26 left in the first half. By the 7:04 mark, the Golden Eagles had scored 11 unanswered points to take a 28-19 lead. In that three-minute span the Mustangs missed six shots and turned the ball over once.

“Southern Miss is a very good defensive team,” Doherty said. “But I still think we had some open looks that we didn’t make.”

And some players didn’t even get open looks. Ofoegbu spent the game with a player attached to his back and another ready to jump over as soon as the ball came near him. The consistent leading scorer for the Mustangs was held to just four field goal attempts, all of which were heavily contested.

So it was the junior guards Jon Killen and Dez Willingham who picked up the slack along with Pearson.

Killen and Willingham each finished the game with 11 points. Willingham added four assists, and both did most of their damage from beyond the arch. All six of the Mustangs’ three-point makes came from Killen and Willingham, each making three.

It was the final collegiate basketball game for Ofoegbu, Pearson and Donatas Rackauskas, who finished the game with six points. Rackauskas’ career was the longest, with five years including a red-shirt season, Pearson’s the most consistent averaging from 9.5 to 10.6 points a game in the three seasons he played most, and Ofoegbu’s was the brightest at the end.

“I really wanted to coach them a few more days, a few more weeks. They were a pleasure to work with,” Doherty said of his three seniors.

While their time is finished in the SMU basketball program, they are confident that it will continue to move in the right direction after they leave.

“We’re happy to see where the program is going,” said Rackauskas. Pearson added, “I believe we have laid the foundation for Coach Doherty’s future players and the future of SMU basketball.”

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