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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU Juniors Jaisan Avery and Kayla Spears paint together during Curlchella hosted by SMU Fro, Dallas Texas, Wednesday April 17, 2024 (©2024/Mikaila Neverson/SMU).
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Mikaila Neverson, News Editor • April 23, 2024
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In gritty win, Tim Jankovich and SMU show they’re comfortable outside their comfort zone

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Photo credit: Mollie Mayfield

NEW YORK CITY – Tim Jankovich is never shy of sharing his preference for free-moving offense that flows: Pretty offense with lots of cuts, screens and open 3-pointers. Through two games, his team ran exactly that.

Thursday in the 2K Classic, Pittsburgh didn’t allow SMU to run its pretty offense the way it wanted to. Forced out of its comfort zone for the first time this season, SMU didn’t fret.

Seeking an answer to stopping SMU’s 16-0 run, the Panthers switched to a 3-2 zone from their usual switch-everything man defense. SMU didn’t score on it for the rest of the half.

Just five days earlier, SMU dismantled Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone with a pretty zone offense that Jankovich practiced and prepared all preseason. Even though Jankovich said he was ready for Pittsburgh’s reversal, that six-minute scoreless stretch looked like SMU players were in their first day of practicing zone offense.

Trailing 33-31 at halftime, with SMU unable to run his pretty offense, Jankovich knew Pittsburgh would employ the zone again. Sure enough, the Panthers showed it three minutes into the second half. Regrouped and ready for it, SMU screened the bottom two defenders to set up an easy alley-oop for Semi Ojeleye, a play it repeatedly ran against Eastern Michigan.

Ojeleye’s dunk was a pretty and well-executed set, but not the norm for SMU in its 76-67 win. A game after assisting on 26 of 29 made field goals, SMU assisted on only 12 of 30. Instead, SMU beat Pittsburgh by grabbing more offensive rebounds, forcing more turnovers and responding with a basket every time Pittsburgh threatened to go on a run.

Out-of-the-norm, yes. But the ability to adapt wasn’t.

“The last game we played, we attacked a defense as well as we could have hoped,” Jankovich said. We were so efficient offensively. That was one way. Tonight, I thought we won with some grit.

“I think that’s the way it’s going to be with this group. I think there will be different ways to win. They’ll be a lot of fun to coach.”

Part of the reason Jankovich likes this year’s team is the amount of time they spend in the gym outside of practice. It’s a reason he thinks his players can win in so many ways. He says he sees players working out on their own, outside of practice, at any time during the day.

Ojeleye, whose 24 points led all scorers, might be the most impressive out-of-practice worker. Considering that’s all he could do for 23 months while sitting out after his transfer from Duke, it’s no surprise.

“He’s a machine. We’re blown away,” Jankovich said. “We’ve been around a lot of hard-working guys. But you set your clock by this guy and it’s each and every day. He can’t get enough. We’re begging him, ‘It’s the day of the game, you don’t need another four hours of work.’”

To stop that habit would be out of Ojeleye’s comfort zone. And it’s probably the only comfort zone SMU will never leave.

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