SMU’s final look by Shake Milton was challenged but reasonable, a floater between defenders near the basket. The shot was short, assuring Southern California 66-65 triumph and forcing Mustangs star Semi Ojeleye into a decision making process earlier than he expected.
Ojeleye, a junior from Ottawa, Kan., must decide whether to return to SMU for his senior year or try to enter the NBA.
“I’m a little shocked right now, I’ll take some time to evaluate,” Ojeleye said. “A lot of people will tell you, you had a great season, this and that. But I need to see what reality is and see what’s best for me.”
Ojeleye did all he could to put off this decision for at least another game. He finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Find a clip of his follow slam early in the second half, the most athletic play of the game.
But now it’s over, and in crushing fashion. The Mustangs led most of the game, taking double digit leads in each half, only to succumb to Southern California’s zone defense.
“We noticed we could defend them better in zone than in man, so we stayed with it and it kept working,” said Trojans coach Andy Enfield.
Still, SMU had its chances. The Mustangs missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the final two minutes and committed a turnover with 47 seconds remaining while holding a two-point lead. Ten second later USC’s Elijah Stewart buried a three-pointer from the corner.
The 11th-seeded Trojans were on their way to become yet another team to start in the First Four and win a game in the first round. It’s now happened in all seven years of the 68-team field. They’ll move on to play No. 3 seed Baylor on Sunday in an East Region game.
As for the Mustangs, they’ll have an offseason to heal from a second one-point loss in the first round in three years. In 2015, UCLA did the damage.
And Oleleye, the 6-foot-7 force who started his career at Duke before transferring and becoming the American Athletic Conference player of the year while averaging 19 points and seven rebounds, has a plenty think about.