No. 14 SMU gunning for share of AAC title (Mar 02, 2017)

SMU can clinch a share of the American Athletic Conference title on Thursday, but it will have to do something that’s proven remarkably difficult in recent years: beat Tulsa at home.

The No. 14 Mustangs (25-4, 15-1) have lost to Tulsa (14-14, 8-8) four of the last five times they’ve played in Dallas.

That includes last season’s 82-77 Tulsa win on Feb. 10, 2016 at SMU’s Moody Coliseum, the last time the Mustangs lost at home. SMU has since won 20 in a row at Moody, including a 16-0 home mark this year.

“We played great in that building last year,” Golden Hurricane coach Frank Haith told the Tulsa World. “We’ve actually played great there the last two years. I think we had our chances the first year and it was a slugfest.”

SMU has sold out 47 of 64 games since a cozy, renovated Moody Coliseum re-opened on Jan. 4, 2014. The sellouts include a record 7,518 in attendance for a win over then-No. 11 Cincinnati earlier this season.

“They’ve got a different vibe down there in their building, in terms of the energy in their building, the enthusiasm in their building,” Haith told The Tulsa World. “Their students are sitting right behind the visiting team and they sell it out… so it’s a tough place to get a win.”

SMU has proven tough to beat anywhere this season. The Mustangs have won 11 straight games and 21 of their last 22. And they’re doing it with just six players in the regular rotation.

Although it lacks depth, SMU’s lineup is versatile and unselfish. SMU is just a tick from having all five starters averaging double figures in scoring: Semi Ojeleye leads with 18.2 ppg, followed by Shake Milton (13.4), Sterling Brown (12.1), Ben Moore (11.7) and Jarrey Foster (9.4).

“This year has been the most unique experience in coaching I’ve had,” SMU coahc Tim Jankovich said on his weekly radio show Monday. “But it’s been incredibly fun, don’t get me wrong.”

It will be even more fun for SMU if it can clinch a share of the AAC title, a situation created by Cincinnati’s shocking loss at UCF on Sunday.

“I’d be just lying straight at you if I said that I wasn’t a little bit happy about that,” Jankovch said. “But because of what happened Sunday, it changes the psychology a little bit, which makes me a little bit nervous. In my mind, Thursday night’s game is exactly the same game it was three days ago. We felt like three days ago, we’re going to need to win Thursday night. Nothing has changed.”

Tulsa comes in riding a two-game winning streak, thanks in part to true freshman Martins Igbanu, who was named the AAC Rookie of the Week on Monday. Igbanu averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds last week in wins over USF and East Carolina.

If Tulsa can pull off another win at Moody, it will have to buck a recent trend of its own. The Golden Hurricane have lost four in a row on the road, with the last road win Jan. 21 at USF.