Knights come calling on 23rd-ranked Mustangs

Mar 1, 2014 - 3:12 PM Dallas, TX ( - The 23rd-ranked SMU Mustangs gear up for the home stretch, as they take on the UCF Knights in an American Athletic Conference bout at Moody Coliseum.

SMU has had a stellar year, its second under head coach Larry Brown. The Mustangs are 22-6 overall with wins in six of their last seven games. They have played well against the rest of the AAC as well, sitting third in the standings (11-4) behind seventh-ranked Louisville and 11th-ranked Cincinnati. Their final two games of the season will be tough as they get a shot at the Cardinals, before visiting 21st-ranked Memphis in the regular season finale.

UCF squeaked out a 67-65 win over Rutgers on Wednesday, but the Knights have not made winning a habit this season, especially in league play. They are just 3-12 against conference foes, and tied with South Florida for next-to-last in the league standings. They visit last-place Temple before hosting Houston in their final two games of the campaign.

These former Conference USA foes already met up once as members of their new league, with SMU grinding out a 58-46 road victory on Jan. 18. UCF had won the previous four matchups, but the Mustangs lead the all-time series, 4-3.

Tristan Spurlock scored 23 points to help UCF storm back from a 15-point deficit in the second half to top Rutgers. Trailing, 54-39, with 9:30 to play, the Knights ripped off runs of 11-0 and 16-4 to go up 67-63 and put the game away with eight seconds to play.

One area the Knights did not come out on top was on the boards (41-33). It was a surprising outcome considering UCF is the top rebounding team in the AAC (38.3 rpg). However, the Knights rank in the bottom half of the league in both scoring (71.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.436). Isaiah Sykes (16 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.6 apg) is the cornerstone of the team, leading the way in scoring, rebounds and assists. Sykes tallied 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting against Rutgers, but he could have done more, as he hit just 6-of-12 at the free-throw line. Spurlock (11.7 ppg) is the only other player on the roster averaging in double figures.

Even on the road, SMU put a stranglehold on Connecticut last Sunday to claim a 64-55 victory. The Mustangs limited the Huskies to 29.6 percent shooting, while forcing 16 turnovers. Nic Moore and Nic Russell each scored 15 points to lead the way.

Few teams in the country are playing as well and as consistently as SMU is at the defensive end of the floor. The Mustangs rank second in opponents field goal percentage (.368), while letting up only 61.4 ppg. At the other end, they are not overly potent (72.2 ppg), but they don't waste possessions, shooting the ninth-best percentage from the floor (.493) in Division I. Moore (14.2 ppg, 4.6 apg) is the top playmaker on the roster, excelling in finding his own shot and setting up his teammates. Markus Kennedy (11.7 ppg, 7 rpg) is the next best option and the team's top glass cleaner.

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