SMU Basketball: Semi Ojeleye, SMU take down Pittsburgh at MSG

SMU basketball improves to 3-0 thanks to strong second half versus Pittsburgh.

SmuMustangs

76

PittsburghPanthers

67

With the ACC featuring a loaded group of teams from top to bottom and SMU still adjusting to the loss of Nic Moore, the Pittsburgh Panthers and the SMU Mustangs will likely be battling each other on the NCAA Tournament bubble in March.

While no November game is even close to a must-win, this 2K Sports Classic battle was a critical resume building match-up for both sides.

The Mustangs took advantage of the big stage at Madison Square Garden and captured a 76-67 victory over Kevin Stallings’ Panthers. Tim Jankovich’s squad now advances to the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic tomorrow evening, where they will face either Michigan or Marquette (most likely the Wolverines).

SMU was led by one of the most underrated transfers in America in former Duke Blue Devil Semi Ojeleye. The junior forward, who came into this game averaging a double-double, dropped 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. He provided the Mustangs with inside-out scoring, while also helping Ben Moore anchor the team’s interior defense.

Ojeleye isn’t necessarily flashy, but he is a veteran player who can impact the game in numerous different ways.

The flashy, dynamic player that helped the Mustangs win on Thursday night was Shake Milton. The point guard scored 14 points, dished out four assists and made numerous plays down the stretch of the game.

Milton scored four straight points from the 3:07 mark to the 1:54 mark to help the Mustangs stretch their lead to nine points. He also made a beautiful game-clinching assist to Ojeleye with 35 seconds left.

To further explain how important Milton is to Jankovich and company, his foul trouble in the first half put the Mustangs in a difficult position.

Milton only played eight first half minutes and the Mustangs failed to score over the final 6:04, giving Pittsburgh a 2-point lead at the break.

Part of the reason for the major scoring drought was Pittsburgh’s defensive switch. Instead of continuing to play man-to-man, Stallings went to a 3/4 court press and a 3-2 zone that stifled and stagnated the Mustangs’ offensive attack.

Regardless, SMU would’ve had a better chance to successfully beat the Panthers’ new defensive approach with their true point guard on the floor.

On top of the play of their two stars, the Mustangs also controlled the interior. They out-rebounded the Panthers by seven (37-30), blocked five shots and scored 38 points in the paint (Pitt only had 26). No one grabbed more than seven rebounds (Ben Emelogu led the team), but everyone, even the guards, pitched in on the glass.

Also, Moore was effective around the rim offensively, as he finished multiple dunks and had some solid post moves on his way to 12 points.

For Pittsburgh, Jamel Artis and Michael Young were outstanding. They combined to score 42 points on 13-of-25 and grabbed 16 total rebounds.

But beyond the two seniors, the Panthers received no help on offense. Cameron Johnson scored nine points, but all of them came in the opening half, and the rest of the team scored just 16 total points.

Despite their impressive length, size and versatility at all positions, the lack of balance makes the Panthers more predictable. If they are going to have success in the ACC, someone will have to emerge as their next best scorer.

This isn’t the end of the world for Pittsburgh and this victory does not mean SMU is definitely going dancing. But what it does prove is that the Mustangs are a step ahead of the Panthers despite having a younger roster and losing the AAC Player of the Year. That is impressive.

This article originally appeared on