SMU visits UCF after lengthy COVID-19 interruption

NCAA Men's Basketball

SMU will return to the court for the first time in 12 days Saturday afternoon in Orlando, Fla., when it faces Central Florida in the teams’ first meeting of the 2020-21 season.

They are two American Athletic Conference programs who have seen stops and starts to the season due to COVID-19 and its protocols.

SMU postponed two contests last week — at Memphis on Jan. 14 and against Wichita State on Jan. 17 — due to issues with the virus inside the Dallas school’s program.

With Tulane, Wednesday’s scheduled opponent, having to follow protocol earlier this week, SMU’s game against the Green Wave also was postponed.

The Mustangs (7-2, 3-2) were victorious in their most recent outing — a 79-68 home win over Temple on Jan. 11 — but it didn’t come easy as SMU coach Tim Jankovich challenged his group to toughen up in preparation for the game.

“I don’t use it all the time. And honestly, as best I can remember, I honestly only say it when I mean it,” Jankovich said. “I don’t have an advanced psychology degree. I don’t have a PhD. So the degree I have — the one I subscribe to — is just being honest.

“And what I [saw was] a team that’s been soft on the boards for a few weeks.”

After getting outrebounded in the previous three games — including 43-38 by Temple on Dec. 30 in Philadelphia — the Mustangs hunkered in and owned the paint, producing a 44-31 advantage on the boards in the rematch.

Reserve Jahmar Young Jr., who grabbed five rebounds in just seven minutes, said he and his teammates had motivation.

“We don’t want the label to be soft,” Young said. “So when he calls us soft, it strikes a nerve, and then we flipped the switch.”

The Knights (3-5, 1-4) have been navigating a tough stretch. They’ve dropped four straight dating back to a 63-54 home loss to then-No. 6 Houston the day after Christmas and have had two postponed.

Houston routed UCF 75-58 at home on Sunday — leading 45-19 at the half — and Knights coach Johnny Dawkins said his squad will need a better beginning against SMU this weekend.

“I was disappointed at how we started the [Houston] game,” Dawkins said. “We had a game plan and strategy. I didn’t think we executed it to start. … We have to be better than that.”

–Field Level Media

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