The last college game Larry Brown coached before Sunday ended with someone handing him a trophy, as the Kansas Jayhawks beat Oklahoma 83-79 to win the national title in 1988.
Twenty-four years later he’s been given the keys to an SMU program that’s looking to reverse its fortunes, and he’s off to a 1-0 start as a result of the Mustangs’ 73-58 win over Loyola Marymount.
(Interestingly enough the Most Outstanding Player of the 1988 NCAA tournament, Danny Manning, picked up his first win as a head coach on Sunday as Tulsa beat LSU Shreveport 110-54.)
Nick Russell finished with a game-high 19 points and all five starters reached double figures for SMU, including guard Jalen Jones (11 points, 11 rebounds) and forward Shawn Cunningham (12 points, seven rebounds).
“I don’t like games. Games are tough,” said Brown in his postgame press conference. “But being in that environment and watching how hard our kids tried, and how supportive the people were that were in the building, that was a terrific feeling.”
Anthony Ireland led the visitors with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists but Loyola Marymount struggled offensively, making just 32.6% of their shots from the field and shooting 7-of-24 from beyond the arc.
Depth could be a concern for the Mustangs as the season wears on, as only six of the players who saw action played double digit minutes with four of those playing at least 30 minutes.
Russell and Ryan Manuel were the players entrusted with running the offense for SMU, and while there are plenty of things to work on they performed well in the season opener.
Manuel shot 1-of-9 from the field but finished with 14 points (12-of-15 FT) and his defensive effort against Ireland (5-of-14 FG) proved to be a catalyst for SMU.
“I watched the film…[Ireland] can score, he averaged 16 a game last year without trying” said Brown. “Ryan’s long and that’s a tough match-up, but he has the potential to be a tremendous defender. He’s going to be a pretty good player, and he’s going to get better every day.”
An 18-9 run to end the first half gave the Mustangs a 35-26 lead at the intermission, and they held the Lions to 30.5% shooting in the second half.
How many games the Mustangs ultimately win remains to be seen, and given their lack of depth the expectations aren’t too high this season.
But with some talented transfers waiting in the wings (Crandall Head, Marcus Kennedy and Nic Moore) the hope is that the lessons learned this season will help build a program capable of competing in the Big East.
Lao-tzu once stated that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” SMU fans hope tonight’s victory was that step for the basketball program.