By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn (CBS Connecticut) – SMU couldn’t have been too thrilled with the first half of their 70-59 win over UCF, especially coming on the heels of the second half against East Carolina yesterday. SMU lead 26-23 at the half in this one, before putting up 44 points in the second half to slowly but surely put UCF away for good.
“You know, we played very well yesterday (in the conference quarterfinals against East Carolina) for 34 minutes or so, and then really had a rough ending,” SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich said. “So to bounce back from that and really look like the team that we’ve seen all year. I’m really proud and happy for them.”
Yesterday SMU was led by Semi Ojeleye offensively. Today it was a more balanced attack. SMU’s five starters scored all 70 of the team’s points, led tonight by Sterling Brown’s 22 and Shake Milton’s 16 points and 5 assists. Not relying on one particular player to shoulder the scoring load night in and night out is what will help SMU go far this March.
“I mean with this team, everybody stays ready,” Milton said. “So, it doesn’t matter whose night it is. Everybody is unselfish as well. If you’re hot, we’re going to get you the ball.”
“It’s who we are,” Jankovich added. “We are not a one-man team. We have a lot of great one-man players on a given night. I can tell you that.”
SMU only played 6 players this afternoon and Jankovich is well aware of how that might catch up with them in the end. But Jankovich refuses to let that be an excuse for his team.
“I said it before and I agree now,” Jankovich said. “This is going to be a very, very, very big challenge for us tomorrow. Having said that, no excuse.”
Uconn might be the better match up for the Mustangs given that their bench is not exactly the deepest either. Add on top of that the fact that Uconn could be playing in the 4th game in 4 nights and it makes even more sense. Cincinnati is a much deeper team that can roll out 9 or 10 players on a given night. Don’t expect anyone from SMU to come right out and say any of this though.
Redshirt Sophomore B.J. Taylor led UCF in scoring with 20 points and did all he could do to keep the game from slipping away in the second half. Taylor finished with 4 three point baskets on the afternoon. Senior Nick Banyard added 16 points for the Knights as well.
This was head coach Johnny Dawkins’ first year with the UCF program after spending time as the head coach at Stanford. It would be very easy for Dawkins to be satisfied with 21 wins to this point for sure. But he wasn’t ready to turn the page on the season just yet.
“I think this team today, in March, would beat the team back in October, for sure,” Dawkins replied when asked how he thinks his team has improved as the season has gone on. “You want to see growth and development in your young men on and off the court. And I can say we’ve actually seen that with this group, so I’m very excited about what they were able to accomplish, even though it wasn’t, you know, our ultimate goal.”
Taylor and Sophomore Center Tacko Fall will presumably return for the Knights next season.
As for SMU, they are on to the American final tomorrow afternoon at 3:15pm verses the winner of Cincinnati/Uconn.
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini for coverage of the AAC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the XL Center in Hartford all weekend long.