E. Washington-SMU Preview

BY foxsports • November 21, 2014

Though a victory over Eastern Washington probably won't prevent SMU from dropping out of the Top 25, the matchup provides another opportunity for coach Larry Brown to find some much-needed leadership.

The No. 22 Mustangs look to avoid a third consecutive defeat Saturday night against the visiting Eagles.

SMU (1-2) didn't expect to have an easy time while visiting No. 13 Gonzaga and Indiana this week. The Mustangs shot 31.1 percent in a 72-56 loss to the Bulldogs on Monday, then connected on 56.9 percent but committed 19 turnovers Thursday in a 74-68 defeat to the Hoosiers.

"We want to get to where Indiana is and all these great programs are," said Brown, who beefed up his team's schedule after not facing a ranked non-conference opponent in 2013-14. "We're building in the right direction. This is the greatest learning experience."

However, Brown wants somebody to take charge and lead the Mustangs during that experience.

"I get an upset stomach,'' he said. ''We don't have a leader right now. Everybody is worrying about playing time and different things that don't really matter. I'm looking at this as an opportunity for other people to step up."

Whether that person leads by example on the floor or vocally in the locker room remains to be seen.

Forward Ben Moore is averaging 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds, but he's a sophomore who could perhaps grow into the role.

Junior guard Nic Moore shot 46.4 percent and averaged a team-high 13.6 points during the Mustangs' 27-win 2013-14 season, but he's looked inconsistent while shooting 37.0 percent and committing nine turnovers so far. He did make half of his six 3-point attempts to finish with 13 points Thursday.

Forward Markus Kennedy was expected to be a key contributor after averaging 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds last season, but he has yet to play because of academic issues.

"We'll get it straightened out, we've got good kids," said Brown, whose 2013-14 team's longest slide came while losing the final two regular season games and opener of the American Athletic Conference tournament.

Brown could find what he's looking for in this first meeting with Eastern Washington (3-0), which averaged 85.3 points while beating Texas Southern, Utah Valley and NAIA Walla Walla University by an average of 36.7 points. The Eagles' only other 4-0 start came in 1985-86.

Tyler Harvey averaged a Big Sky-leading 21.8 points last season, and is at 18.3 while going 15 of 26 from 3-point range through three games.

The Eagles, who have made 46.2 percent (36 of 78) of their 3s, will visit Indiana on Monday.

"What a great opportunity to earn respect for our program," coach Jim Hayford said. "Our guys are going to approach both SMU and Indiana with the attitude of 'let's do whatever we can - we are coming here to win these games, so let's go give them everything we have.'"

Eastern Washington has dropped 15 consecutive games against ranked opponents since a 68-67 victory over No. 10 Saint Joseph's on Nov. 15, 2001.

SMU, meanwhile, will try for a 17th straight home win over an unranked opponent.

"We are going into the lion's den that is their sold-out gym, and that will be as tough for us as them going (to Gonzaga)," Hayford said.