SMU looks to avenge tourney loss to No. 14 USC

DALLAS — No. 14 USC and SMU are fast becoming familiar foes. Their meeting Saturday at Moody Coliseum in Dallas marks the third encounter between these programs in less than 13 months.

The implications this time around are not as significant as in the last matchup — a 66-65 Trojans win in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament — but both USC (4-1) and SMU (6-2) come in looking for a signature victory to help their cause come next March.

USC lost its last time out, 75-59 to Texas A&M on Nov. 26. The margin of victory matched a 19-3 run the Trojans gave up midway through the second half after battling back from an early deficit to come within a basket.

“I thought our defense was good enough to win, but our offense wasn’t,” USC coach Andy Enfield said in his post-game press conference. “Missing open shots, shots at the rim, not executing.”

Stagnant offense is uncharacteristic for a USC team ranked No. 23 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com metrics. Just as uncharacteristic: forward Bennie Boatwright shooting 3-of-13 from the floor and 2-of-8 from behind the 3-point line. Boatwright connected on 6-of-10 from the floor when USC beat SMU in March.

“Bennie had an off game,” Enfield said. “He’ll bounce back. We wouldn’t be here without him.”

SMU returned home from the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, where the Mustangs finished 1-2 with a signature win over Arizona but losses to Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky. They routed UT-Rio Grande Valley 95-64 on Nov. 28, a welcome bounce-back after returning stateside.

“Coming out, we wanted to start the game off right: Come out with a strong defensive intensity,” SMU guard Jimmy Whitt said in the post-game press conference. “We came off a tournament, and we wanted to get back on track, get back to what we do, playing tough defense.”

SMU forced UTRGV into 15 turnovers, which the Mustangs converted into 20 points. Such is the preferred style of coach Tim Jankovich. His team ranks No. 23 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and No. 20 with a 24.4 percent opponent turnover rate.

“I thought we played great defense in the first half, not so much in the second,” Jankovich said after the game.

Should SMU’s defensive prowess cause USC trouble early, the Trojans could be faced with another situation playing from behind. USC fell behind in the first half in three of its last four games against North Dakota State, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

SMU ran out to a 38-30 halftime lead in their NCAA Tournament matchup last Spring. Semi Ojeyele and Sterling Brown, who combined for 41 points in that contest, are gone for SMU, but Shake Milton returns.

USC’s starting lineup from the March meeting is mostly intact, though guard De’Anthony Melton has remained benched as a precautionary measure amid the FBI’s ongoing investigation into alleged recruiting improprieties by Trojans assistant Tony Bland.

A Los Angeles Times report published Tuesday said a video may show an inconsistency in the case involving USC, but how that impacts Melton’s availability Saturday is uncertain.