DALLAS – Coaching took place away from the court and well in advance of SMU’s 71-54 victory over South Florida on Wednesday night when Mustangs coach Larry Brown had a heart-to-heart talk with Markus Kennedy, who moved into the starting center role late last week.
The tutorial dealt mostly with being more aggressive, consistent and focused. The result was Kennedy registering career highs with 18 points and 10 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double – plus a career-high four steals – as the Mustangs (12-4, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) scored the first 13 points and were never threatened by the visiting Bulls (10-7, 1-3).
“He challenged me, and I took the challenge,” Kennedy said. “He’s tells you what you need to do, and I try my best to get it done. Our talk really had a lot to do with my performance.”
Shawn Williams added 16 points and was SMU’s principal defender in holding South Florida’s Victor Rudd, who came in with a team-leading average of 16.2 points per game, to 2-for-13 from the floor and 5 points.
“Kennedy and Williams were terrific,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “We had a hard time with their inside guys.”
SMU owned a double-digit lead from four minutes after tipoff for the rest of the game. Its largest lead was 26 with 4:12 remaining.
Kennedy, a 6-foot-9 sophomore transfer who played previously for Villanova, made his second consecutive start since SMU’s starting center, 6-11 junior Yanick Moreira, injured his right knee in practice last Thursday.
Even without Moreira, SMU outscored South Florida in the paint 42-24. That contributed to the Mustangs shooting 50.9 percent. Heath credited SMU’s inside players with being “real versatile bigs.”
“Both Kennedy and Williams are playing at the elbow and driving, playing off the dribble,” Heath said. “We knew it was going to come, but simulating it in practice and doing it in the games is two different things.”
Kennedy is SMU’s second-leading scorer this season despite coming off the bench for the first 14 games. He made his first start last Saturday in a 71-63 loss at then-No. 12 Louisville. Moreira will be out for three to six weeks.
SMU went into the game ranked fourth in Division I in field-goal defense, allowing 36.5-percent shooting, and held South Florida to 32.1 percent.
“They made us play faster than what we usually play,” USF’s Corey Allen Jr. said. “We took the first open shot, not necessarily the first good shot.”
SMU raced to the 13-0 lead in the first 4:39 while South Florida missed its first six field-goal attempts and committed three turnovers.
The Mustangs were so hot they missed a free-throw attempt before missing from the field – and got the offensive rebound on the missed free throw to convert it into a basket.
When USF freshman guard Josh Heath (son of the Bulls’ coach) sailed an intended alley-oop pass out of bounds, SMU came down court and responded with a successful alley-oop from Williams to Kennedy.
South Florida finally got on the scoreboard with two free throws from Chris Perry. Martino Brock’s layup with 12:42 left in the half accounted for USF’s first field goal.
The SMU first-half lead reached 19 points with 7:04 left before intermission at 30-11.
USF played its seventh consecutive game without junior point guard Anthony Collins, a three-year starter sidelined with knee problems.
“It is what it is,” Heath said. “We’ve just got to work at it and get better. Rudd is a veteran for us. Rudd didn’t have one of his better games. He’s been playing terrific. When he’s not playing at a pretty good level, it makes it even harder for our basketball team.”
Zach LeDay led South Florida with 12 points off the bench.