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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Men’s basketball travels to USF for season opoener

SMU+center+Bamba+Fall+%2821%29+goes+up+for+a+shot+against+Memphis+last+season+in+Moody+Coliseum+on+March+5.
Stuart Palley
SMU center Bamba Fall (21) goes up for a shot against Memphis last season in Moody Coliseum on March 5.

SMU center Bamba Fall (21) goes up for a shot against Memphis last season in Moody Coliseum on March 5. (Stuart Palley)

The SMU men’s basketball team begins its 2008-2009 campaign at 6 p.m. tonight at the University of South Florida.

The Mustangs, led by big men Papa Dia and Bamba Fall, are trying to flip their 10-20 record from last season to 20-10 this year. A win against the Bulls, of the Big East Conference, could go a long way towards achieving that goal.

SMU is 55-37 in season openers in its 93-year history. The Mustangs are 33-59, however, in road openers, and they have not won a season-opening road game since 2004.

If the Mustangs want to buck that trend, the responsibility likely will fall on the shoulders of Dia and Fall, who combined to average 20.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game last season and figure to carry the load on offense, at least early this season.

Fall led the team with 63 blocks last season and is second on the school’s all-time block list, behind Jon Koncak. Fall played on the Senegal National Team in the summer before his junior year, and he was second on the team in points (11.8) in the 2007-2008 season.

Dia, who averaged 9.7 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds, was a Conference USA All-Freshman Team selection last year.

Newcomers Derrick Williams and Paul McCoy, along with sophomores Mike Walker, Ryan Harp and Alex Malone will likely be in the rotation of guards.

Last year, the Mustangs finished 4-12 in conference, and head coach Matt Doherty is entering his third season at the helm. He said that his team is blossoming into a “program” and expects young players to take the reins and start guiding the Mustangs to wins.

“We may have more talented players than last season,” said Doherty. “But who’s going to step up and be the leaders, and who’s going to be the followers?”

USF was only 12-19 last season, but the Bulls are far from an easy season-opening opponent. USF competes in the powerful Big East and managed to hold four top 25-ranked opponents within 10 points last season, despite losing all those contests.

The Bulls’ attack is led by sophomore Dominique Jones, who was the only player to start every game last year. He led the team with 17.1 points per game and nailed 54 3-pointers.

Senior Jesus Verdejo (10.7 points) was the only other returning USF player to average double-digit points last season.

SMU is 2-0 against South Florida in the program’s history, with those victories in 1986 and 1987.

The Mustangs will also face the University of Northwestern, from the Big Ten, and the University of Texas A&M and the University of Colorado, both from the Big 12, this season.

“The fact that teams from power conferences are playing home-and-home series with SMU shows the national respect that is building for SMU basketball,” said Doherty in a press release on SMUMustangs.com.

The Mustangs open their home schedule next Friday in the SMU Tip-Off Classic. On consecutive nights, SMU faces Houston Baptist, Alabama State and Illinois State.

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