The Cougars shot only 32.2 percent from the field on Saturday afternoon while the SMU Mustangs shot 38.2 percent. Usually when the Cougars shooting percentage has been this bad this season, they have lost. But they got the 66-60 win on Saturday because the Cougars did have an incredible night from one player. And that one player wasn't Aubrey Coleman for once. It was Kelvin Lewis.
"I knew it was going to happen sooner or later," Coleman said of Lewis. "It was a good feeling. But I knew it was going to happen, though."
What finally happened, sooner or later, was that Lewis went 7-for-11 from the field in the first half including an incredible, red hot, five-for-nine from behind the three-point line as he paced his team to the 31-26 halftime lead. He cooled off a bit in the second half, but his hot streak had its intended effect, opening up the middle of the floor so that Coleman, who spent the majority of the first half on the bench, was able to drive the middle and get some freedom to score.
"We just keep getting it to Kelvin like we were doing," Coleman said of the team's offensive plan. "Then he makes the shot and it opens up the drives."
Lewis finished the game with 29 of the team's 66 points as he tied his career high after making seven three-pointers during the game. Coleman, who had only two points on two free throws in the first half, finished the game with 16 points as he was the team's second-leading scorer.
But despite Lewis' game, the Cougars would have lost had they not finally discovered the ability to hit free throws. And Lewis was the key there, too, as with SMU making a desperate attempt to get back in the game, Lewis went to the foul line four times, hitting all four to help seal the win.
Head coach Tom Penders called it a team win, stressing the efforts by guys like Adam Brown and Zamal Nixon, who despite low point totals, handled key defensive assignments and ran the offense, finding ways to shut down the SMU offense while getting the ball to Lewis, who despite his incredible night, was seemingly forever open for any shot that he wanted to take.
"We did a lot of good things," Penders said. "It was a real team effort. Some guys struggled a little bit. And some guys came in and did a really good job and it might not even show up in the stat sheet, like Adam Brown did a really good job defensively. He's coming on defensively. I think that if he might have hit a couple in the first half, he might have gone on a bit of tear because he's really been shooting well."
But the story was Lewis.
"For the most part, I was trying to lure them to sleep," Lewis said. "Some of those shots were from pretty far back, and they probably didn't think I was shooting. I was just trying to lure them to sleep. Because my teammates know the spots where I like it, and I can hit it. And I lured them to sleep."
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What might have lured SMU to sleep, more than anything, was that for the past month, Lewis had been struggling to score points. But Lewis didn't let the struggling from the floor get to him.
"There's certain times when it's going to happen like that, so I try to pick up one thing, like rebounding or defense," he said. "I knew it would come around. I wasn't, like, stressing about it at all. Because I knew that I could bring my defense to the floor, and that was what I was going to be focused on today."
It's been a stressful couple of weeks for the team. There was a losing streak, and the controversy around assistant coach Melvin Haralson. And Coleman stressed that, with the team going on the road for the next two games, it would be good to get away from the negativity that has been around the team. He and Lewis also stated the team's focus is now on the conference tournament, which they feel is wide open to any team to win.
But the team has to finish the regular season before it gets to the tournament, and that starts this week as the team goes for revenge against UCF in Orlando on Tuesday -- their worst game of the season was unarguably their loss to UCF back in January. Then they play UAB in Birmingham on Saturday before returning to Hofheinz Pavilion to take on Memphis on Wednesday February 24.