Thu, 04 Mar 2021

SMU, Memphis set for second-place duel in conference

Field Level Media
26 Jan 2021, 13:40 GMT+10

With SMU head coach Tim Jankovich unavailable last Saturday at UCF out of an abundance of caution, Mustangs assistants John Cooper and Yaphett King took the opportunity to practice what the coaching staff preaches.

Cooper and King served as co-coaches in the Mustangs' 78-65 victory over the Knights, a win that allowed SMU to keep pace in the chase for second place in the American Athletic Conference.

SMU (8-2, 4-2) moved to 3-0 on the road for the first time since starting 5-0 in 2015-16 and will look to extend that streak on Tuesday at Memphis (8-5, 4-2).

With Jankovich running a low-grade fever and two other assistants back in Dallas as part of contact tracing, Cooper and King -- both of whom have head coaching experience -- made the best of a challenging situation.

They also had the aid of the remaining available staff: Sean Stout, Jon Ekey and graduate assistant Zach Steinberg. King compiled the scouting report for the contest and the coaches put forth a collaborative effort.

"It's just a matter of trying to be like the team," Cooper said. "Just come together and put the group in the best situation possible. It was great in that it was his (King's) scout, a scout that he had worked on, so there was some familiarity there. And we just worked together ... as a group.

"What are the things that we can do to make sure our group is successful? What are the things that we may face in the game? How do we attack those things? Let's everyone be on the lookout and help each other with things that we see and are there any adjustments that we can make? That's how we went about it."

The Mustangs needed the result. Wichita State and Tulsa also hold a share of second place with both SMU and Memphis. The four-team group is 2.5 games behind conference leader No. 8 Houston. Tulsa is the lone team to defeat Houston this season.

Memphis appears to be finding its stride, coming off a pair of blowout wins over Wichita State and East Carolina. The Tigers have held their last five opponents under 60 points, the longest such streak since a run of seven consecutive games in January 2008.

Memphis ranks seventh nationally in field-goal percentage defense at 37.7 percent but will face the top-ranked offense in the American in SMU, which is averaging 79.1 points on 47 percent shooting. The Mustangs also lead the conference in 3-point shooting at 36.2 percent and have won consecutive games against Memphis.

The chore ahead for Memphis is stiff, but the Tigers have shown signs of development.

"I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, honestly," Tigers coach Penny Hardaway said. "I've known that we could do this but ... we haven't been able to match the halves up because the kids just aren't for 40 minutes fully focused on what we need to do the entire game.

"When we get all that squared away, we're going to be better. I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, for sure."

--Field Level Media

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