22nd-ranked Mustangs begin season against Cardinals

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:31 PM Dallas, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Following a strong 2013-14 season that saw the 22nd-ranked SMU Mustangs miss the NCAA Tournament by the narrowest of margins, the team will try to break out this season as they get set to open against the Lamar Cardinals in a non-conference tilt at Moody Coliseum.

SMU seemed determined to show fans that the program was serious about being a basketball power when the team hired Larry Brown to coach in 2012. The Mustangs finished the 2013-14 campaign with a 27-10 overall record with a 12-6 mark in American Athletic Conference play, and will try to better that this season.

Lamar suffered through a tough 2013-14 season, in which the Cardinals finished with a 4-26 overall record and a 3-15 ledger in Southland Conference play. The team won just one non-conference game all season a year ago.

These two programs have met three times on the court in their series history, with all three decisions going to the Mustangs. SMU easily took the last contest, played in the 2010-11 season, with a 102-70 victory.

Coach Tic Price may have some reason for optimism heading into the new year, as 6-foot-5 senior Donovan Ross (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 20 blocked shots) will lead his Cardinals offensively. The downside of the upcoming season for Lamar is the fact the Cardinals have to live without leading scorer Nimrod Hilliard (14.1 ppg, 4.9 apg) and second-leading scorer Amos Wilson (11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Sophomore guard Preston Mattingly (2.3 ppg), who is the son of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, will be a prominent member of the Lamar offense this season after seeing action in just 19 games a year ago. Also, Vincennes (Indiana) College transfer Tyran de Lattibeaudiere, a senior, has to make his last year of eligibility count.

Ross played in and started all 30 games for the Cardinals last season, and shot a strong 55.4 percent from the floor with a 77.9 percent clip from the free- throw line. In Lamar's annual red-white scrimmage, Ross netted 12 points, as did Quan Jones. Mattingly and Sebastian Norman each scored 11 points in the team's scrimmage, while junior Matt Hancock poured in 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor. It was de Lattibeaudiere who led all scorers in the scrimmage with 25 points and 24 rebounds, while junior college transfer Dontavious Sears added 18.

SMU looked good heading into the postseason in the AAC's first year as a conference in college basketball. But the Mustangs dropped three consecutive games leading up to Selection Sunday, including a 68-64 decision to the sixth- seeded Houston Cougars in the AAC Tournament. That should leave SMU hungry this season, with returning players like Nic Moore (13.6 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.5 spg) and Markus Kennedy (12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg) leading the charge. A player like Sterling Brown (4.4 ppg) should see an increased role in the offense and with the team in general after the Mustangs lost star player Nick Russell in the offseason.

Transfers Justin Martin (Xavier) and Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech) will provide additional help for the team moving forward. As a team, the Mustangs finished ranked right up there with some of the best in the nation last season in terms of scoring defense (62.2 ppg - ranked 22nd in the country) and opponent field goal percentage (.385 - seventh in the country). SMU will want to jump out to a strong start against Lamar, considering the team must turn right around and face West Coast Conference power Gonzaga just three days later.

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