Mustangs outlast Memphis on road, earn first AAC win, 58-54

With 11:40 to go in the second half, Memphis guard Markel Crawford hit a three to give the Tigers their first lead since early in the game, 41-40. Five minutes later, Shake Milton would put the Mustangs back up by four with a three-ball of his own. Sterling Brown got in on the action with three minutes to go, hitting a shot from deep to put SMU up 54-48.

Key shots in big moments would end up deciding the low scoring conference opener between two long time rivals. SMU’s 58-54 win over Memphis on Tuesday night should serve as a reminder to every team in the American Athletic Conference – a reminder that while the AAC may not be the best conference in college basketball, wins still do not come easy.

Memphis proved to be no easy matchup for SMU. The Mustangs found themselves outsized by a Tigers squad that enjoys pounding the ball inside. Tim Jankovich’s game plan began with taking away the Tigers’ strengths one by one, starting with rebounding. Memphis entered the night as one of the better rebounding teams in the conference, yet lost the rebound margin 44-25.

The Tigers’ post presence was also a major reason for concern. Knowing they would have to combat Memphis’ scoring capacity inside, the Mustangs walked the fine line between defending aggressively and avoiding foul trouble. SMU held the Tigers to 35 percent shooting from the field and only 15 points from the charity stripe. For two teams that prefer to score inside (both teams scored 22 points in the paint), three-point shooting may have decided the outcome. Memphis shot only 20 percent from deep (3-15) to SMU’s 39 percent (7-18).

SMU forward Semi Ojeleye once again shined for the Mustangs, recording his third double-double of the season. Ojeleye finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. It was Ojeleye’s 14th double-digit scoring performance of the season.

Senior forward Ben Moore finished with nine points and eight rebounds, but had an impressive defensive night against one of the best post players in the AAC. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson entered the night as the Tigers’ leading scorer, averaging 21.3 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game. Moore, who was assigned to Lawson on defense for much of the game, helped hold him to 14 points and six rebounds, only one of which came on the offensive glass.

Along with Ojeleye, SMU guards Shake Milton (10 points) and Sterling Brown (14 points) scored in double figures. Brown also finished with eight rebounds and six assists.

SMU’s win over Memphis would have been a hard-fought one no matter the score, but the Mustangs made the game harder on themselves. SMU won the rebounding margin by 19 (by eight on the offensive end), but scored three fewer second chance points than Memphis. The Mustangs lost the turnover margin 13-6, giving away seven points on takeaways. SMU also made only 58 percent of its free throws.

Despite some ugly numbers, SMU moves to 11-3 overall and a 1-0 record in conference play after earning a win in a tough environment. SMU may be playing small, but is proving it belongs among the best teams in college basketball one gritty win at a time.

SMU will travel to East Carolina for its second conference game of the season on Dec. 31. Tipoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN3 and the American Sports Network.

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