How SMU’s Markus Kennedy surprised his mom before her deployment (VIDEO)

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Saturday had already been a great day for Markus Kennedy.

The 6-foot-9 center had scored 21 points and grabbed 15 boards, both career-highs, while hitting all 10 of his field goals in an 87-72 rout of then-No. 22 Memphis as the Mustangs notched another resume-building win, one that will help people forget about a loss to lowly South Florida earlier in the week and inched them just that much closer to the right side of the bubble.

It was the best performance of his career, and it just so happened to come in what was SMU’s biggest game of the season.

For most student-athletes, it doesn’t get much better than that.

You see, Kennedy’s mother, Barbara, is a sergeant in the Air Force and, on Monday morning, she was heading off to Kuwait for an eight-month deployment. According to Kennedy, this is his mother’s third tour of duty. She spent time in Germany and in Korea, but that all came when Kennedy was younger.

“We weren’t expecting to see each other before she left,” Kennedy told NBCSports.com. “That was kind of rough on me,” but what Kennedy didn’t know is that SMU had filed a waiver with the NCAA asking permission to pay for a plane ticket to fly him home to see his mother before she left.

“They surprised me after the game,” he said. “They told me I had a ticket to go home. That’s all I needed to know. Rushed in the shower, got my clothes, and I was on the way to the airport. I didn’t ask any questions, I just said thank you to who I had to say thank you to.”

There was a benefit to being unaware of the plane ticket that awaited him after the game: it meant that Barbara was also unaware of Kennedy’s impending arrival. So he enlisted the help of an aunt, who helped to set his mom up.

“My aunt, she organized this game where my mom was blindfolded and she had to feel the family member’s face to guess who they were,” Kennedy said. “When I came in, she was blindfolded. I just walked in and kneeled down, like it was just a part of the game. When she took them off, she was real surprised. She had no clue.”

Having a loved one in the military head overseas is not an easy thing to handle for anyone, let alone a 21-year old college student halfway across the country from his family.

Good on SMU for making sure that this got done.

I think we all can tell just how appreciative the Kennedys are.

“I really want to thank the NCAA and the whole SMU family for allowing me to see my mom before she leaves on Monday,” Markus wrote on Instagram. “I can’t express this feeling, thank you.”

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.