Mustangs battle SMU to the end, fall 70-61

The Midwestern State Mustangs went toe-to-toe with Division I Southern Methodist before eventually falling 70-61 in a Monday night exhibition match at SMU's Moody Coliseum.

The Mustangs (10-3) walked into Moody Coliseum heavy underdogs to the American Athletic Conference powerhouse SMU Mustangs (9-3). Midwestern State quickly let SMU and the 6,589 fans in attendance know that the fight was on.

After opening the game with a 4-2 lead, Midwestern State caught fire from beyond the arc. Three-point shots from junior guard Bretson McNeal and senior guard Derrell Gibbs spurred MSU to an eight point lead with 13:10 left in the first half. McNeal scored all of his 11 points in the first half. Gibbs also scored 11, with 6 coming in the first half.

Timely jumpers from Thad Rideau and a thunderous slam from Trevor Fuller allowed MSU to maintain it's lead until the 8:29 mark in the first. A 3-pointer from SMU's Keith Frazier gave the Ponies a 21-20 advantage.

SMU would build their own 8 point lead in the first half, only to see MSU claw back to within two by halftime, 36-34. Triples from Bretson McNeal and Tavarion Nix helped to get the Mustangs back in the game.

"Our guys were ready to play," said MSU head coach Nelson Haggerty. "Derrell made big shots for us to open the game and Bretson got into a rhythm."

Midwestern was struggling in the paint, surrendering 18 points to SMU and only scoring 8 themselves. However, MSU would only trail 20-19 in rebounding to the long SMU Mustangs at the half.

"I think their length bothered us around the basket tonight," said Haggerty.

Midwestern State didn't waste any time getting back into the contest after the break. Baskets by Xavier Blackburn, Hershell Grant, and Khapri Alston would either tie the game or give MSU a slight lead through the first 7:30 of the second half. Blackburn ended the game scoring 9 points and grabbing a team-high 6 rebounds.

Derrell Gibbs would give Midwestern their largest lead of the second half, 48-45, on a wide open 3-pointer after SMU guard Nic Moore attempted a steal and missed.

The Ponies would use a 6 point run to regain the lead and never look back. MSU kept the game close on layups from Xavier Blackburn that would get the Mustangs to within 60-57. SMU would pull away in the final 2 minutes on free throws from Nic and Ben Moore.

The Southern Methodist players had a lot of praise for the MSU Mustangs.

"MSU is a really good team," said SMU forward Markus Kennedy. "Division II doesn't mean anything - they have good players."

"They were really aggressive for their size on rebounding," said SMU guard Keith Frazier.

"We came to play tonight," said MSU guard Bretson McNeal. "Some things didn't go our way, but I had a lot of fun."

"I felt like we were going to win at all points of the game, "said MSU guard Derrell Gibbs. "I feel like we got better as a team tonight."

"This is definitely the best team we will play all year long," said Haggerty. "We just got after it and approached this game like it was for a national championship."

The Mustangs return home to face the,,South Dakota Mines Hardrockers at Ligon Coliseum on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. for the New Year's Eve matchup.