SMU tops Western Carolina in wire-to-wire effort

After a dispiriting loss in their last game, the SMU Mustangs (2-1) needed to beat Western Carolina. They did, and by a wide margin: 98-65.

“I’m happy for our guys. They needed this. We needed this,” Tim Jankovich. “We needed some confidence. We needed the ball to go in the basket. We needed our guys to feel good and hopefully we can carry this forward a little bit.”

The story of the game for SMU was Jahmal McMurray. The senior guard scored a career high 34 points on wicked efficiency, hitting 14 of his 17 shots. On the final three offensive possessions that McMurray played in the game, he hit a 3-pointer.

“I just set my mind on kill mode and just stayed in attack, and the basket just kept getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

The game was in SMU’s hands from the opening tip. The Mustangs scored the contest’s first 13 points and maintained a double-digit lead for 37 of the game’s 40 minutes.

One noticeable trend for SMU is that the team’s 3-point attempts are down from previous games. After shooting 36 triples against Northwestern State and 30 against Southern Miss, the Mustangs shot just 21 Wednesday. According to Jankovich, that was not a mandate from him and may not be the trend for the rest of the season.

“You have to be a team that takes whatever is given,” he said. “So honestly, it’s too early for me – we’ve got all these new guys, young guys – to tell you what percent of our shots will be threes moving forward.”

WCU freshman Kameron Gibson exploded for 31 points, but SMU played solid defense against the rest of the team; the Catamounts shot 41.2 percent from the field and turned it over 23 times. SMU did a good job of taking away passing lanes, getting deflections and even forcing a five-second violation on an inbound. As it often does, that defense turned into offense, as SMU scored 20 fastbreak points.

One of those transition buckets came from freshman Feron Hunt jumping a passing lane for a tomahawk dunk. He and fellow freshman C.J. White both looked comfortable against the Catamounts. At one point, White scored six points in a row on a 3-pointer and an and-one.

Three of SMU’s nine healthy players are freshmen, so it’s critical that the team gets productive minutes from its young players. Wednesday’s efforts were a step in the right direction, as White and Hunt combined for 18 points.

“I’m happy with their progress,” Jankovich said. “They’re going to be playing real minutes, minutes that matter. We need them to come on.”

Western Carolina is undersized and less athletic than SMU, to make matters worse for the Catamounts, they were sloppy. It remains to be seen if Wednesday night is a sign that SMU is turning a corner, or if it simply beat up on a bad team.