Culture / Sporting Life

Inside SMU’s Joy — a Beaming George W. Bush, Students Storming the Court and a Stunning Comeback Toppling of No. 6 Houston

Kelvin Sampson's UH Team Gets a Look at the Other Side That Comes With Being a Top 10 Power Program

BY // 02.10.22

DALLAS — The SMU student section comes pouring out of the stands, past one of the basket supports and right onto the court. A number of folding chairs fall victim to the joy. But no one minds. Moments earlier, former President George W. Bush leaves his court side seat grinning. It’s that kind of night.

A night that can make a program trying to find its way again believe. A night that can make one of the best college basketball programs in the nation realize just how thin the tightrope this injury crossed season has them on really is.

For as SMU’s Kendric Davis and Marcus Weathers are happily fully engulfed in the sea of rushing humanity, University of Houston players Kyler Edwards and Fabian White Jr. are already walking stone faced down the back corridors of Moody Coliseum, the delirious cheers celebrating their toppling still ringing in their ears.

College basketball’s madness hit Dallas with SMU getting the 85-83 win over No. 6 Houston it desperately needed to have a real chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. Down by 15 points in the second half to one of the best teams in America, Kendric Davis and friends somehow find a way.

A win like that calls for a court storming — and enjoying every minute of it. The Mustangs certainly do. When SMU coach Tim Jankovich emerges from the scene of the celebratory locker room to meet with the media, his hair is soaked wet.

“A little water pipe issue in the locker room,” Jankovich deadpans. “We’ve got to get that fixed.”

Then, the coach grins. “Well maybe that’s not quite the truth. Something like that. Let’s just say it was a little wild in there.”

When you’ve been deemed a coach on the hot seat by numerous college basketball analysts and you’re in the last year of your contract, getting doused with water by your players after a win like this certainly has to be extra sweet. On the other side of the arena, Kelvin Sampson and this now 20-3 Houston team received a vivid reminder of just what it means for teams to beat them these days.

When they’re rushing the court after you lose, you know you’re a powerhouse program. This is life for a Top 10 team.

“I have seen that at other schools I’ve been at,” Sampson says when I ask him about the court rushing scene. “But we’ve built this program up to the point where we’re the biggest game of the year for most of these teams. SMU wins this game tonight and they’re back in the bubble hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“It doesn’t matter where we go. If we would have lost to Cincinnati, they would have rushed the court. We’ve played six road games (in conference). We’re 5-1. I’m pretty happy about that. I’m not going to sit around and hang my head and pout and complain. Or point my finger and bitch because we lost our first road game out of six opportunities.”

George W. Bush enjoyed the very SMU night. (@SMUFB)
George W. Bush enjoyed the very SMU night. (@SMUFB)

All three of UH’s losses have come by two points or less, but there is none of the angry bitter heartbreak that accompanied that 83-82 loss at Alabama when a goaltending wasn’t called at the buzzer on this night. That controversial Alabama loss back on December 11 — which is the last time Houston lost before Wednesday night — came when the Cougars still had star guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark. Those Cougars were a legitimate Final Four worthy team by almost any measure.

The UH team that fell to SMU isn’t that team. Which doesn’t mean that Kelvin Sampson’s proud group isn’t kicking themselves for some opportunities lost. Like Kyler Edwards missing the first free throw of three free throws that could have tied the game at 85 with 2.6 seconds remaining. Or difference making big man Josh Carlton fouling out with 2:27 remaining the trip after he gives UH its last lead of the night.

When they’re rushing the court after you lose, you know you’re a powerhouse program. This is life for a Top 10 team.

Still, SMU (17-5) earned this win. Jankovich’s team never gives in. Not when Houston races out to an 11-0 lead with a good chunk of the crowd still stuck in Dallas traffic (George W. and Laura Bush do make it in plenty of time). Not when UH’s advantage stands at a daunting 60 to 45.

Instead, the Mustangs keep fighting, keep believing, keep scrapping. . . until foul trouble and the reality of an ultra thin bench helps knock Houston down.

“I think I’ve coached over a thousand games — way over a thousand games — and I can’t remember every one of them,” Jankovich says. “But that was one of the great efforts that I’ve ever been a part of.”

SMU Offensive Magic — and Undersized Heart

When it’s over — and after the court finally clears — SMU star guard Kendric Davis is so excited that he can’t stop swearing in the postgame. It’s an endearing look at just how much these games mean to a senior guard who could be thinking of his own NBA future. But is instead thinking about sweet it would be for the Mustangs to go dancing.

SMU still has some work to do to make college basketball’s Big Dance. Tim Jankovich’s team could need to beat Houston again (either at the Fertitta Center, where Sampson’s program has won 37 straight games, in a February 27th rematch) or at the conference tournament in Fort Worth.

But the steps ahead don’t take away from how big a step this win was.

Despite not taking their first lead of the game until there is only 3:33 remaining, the Mustangs find a way. Davis puts up a 22 point, seven assist, seven rebound line while playing 39 of the game’s 40 minutes. Marcus Weathers, SMU’s unconventional 6-foot-5 muscular center, hits three huge 3-pointers from the top of the key in his own 20 point night. And Marcus’ twin brother Michael Weathers adds 17 points of his own.

SMU will score a stunning 85 points against the No. 3 rated defense in the entire country.

“Houston is arguably the best defensive team in America,” Jankovich says. “Or Top 5. . . You’re not that optimistic that tonight is the night that your offense is going to catch fire. And you’re going to hang 85. . .”

But that is exactly what SMU does. Hang 85 points on a Kelvin Sampson coached team, their rival down I-45 (at least until Houston moves into the Big 12). No wonder why these guys are so giddy.

“We call him Charles Barkley,” Michael Weathers volunteers of his brother Marcus, the undersized battler who manages to grab more rebounds than Houston’s 6-foot-11 center (Carlton) on this night. Carlton does put up 17 points, only missing two shots from the field and often overpowering and out skilling SMU’s smaller front line.

“That’s a big boy!” Michael Weathers says of Carlton. “That’s all I’ve got to say. That’s a big boy.”

“That’s a big man right there,” Marcus Weathers jumps in.

University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team defeated the Tulane Green Wave, Wednesday night at the Fertitta Cente
Josh Carlton has become a dominant inside force for the University of Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

But Josh Carlton cannot stop SMU from getting an even larger win. Neither can Taze Moore, who hits almost everything in a 15 point first half and plays all 40 minutes. Or Jamal Shead, the former reserve who’s turned himself into one of the better point guards in the conference, one who puts up 14 points and 12 assists with a former president watching.

Jankovich is cleared thrilled to have the Bushes back in Moody Coliseum, part of the best crowd of the season for the Mustangs.

“I want to thank President and Mrs. Bush for coming,” SMU’s coach says. “It’s just so cool that they do that. I think it’s really cool for our players. I think it’s probably cool for most people in the building. How many people are in a room with a president or former President of the United States for gosh sakes?

“And they’re just the nicest people. I can’t believe how down to earth and nice they are.”

George W. and Laura Bush in Moody

George W. Bush and Laura Bush, who graduated from SMU in 1968 with a degree in education before becoming a second grade teacher, certainly are not big timing anyone on this night. Not that they ever do. They’re cheering right along as Moody roars — and almost shakes at times — during SMU’s second half comeback.

Including when Kyler Edwards steps to the free throw line with 2.6 seconds left. Edwards made a super intelligent play to get to the line — and a chance to tie — managing to throw up a long three knowing that the Jankovich’s team was trying to foul before a tying shot could be attempted. But the player who’s carried the Cougars at times without Sasser misses the first free throw.

“Kyler missed that free throw because of the fans,” Kendric Davis says.

Well that’s debatable — the excitement in the old arena is not. Davis and Jankovich pull each other into a big hug as soon as they leave the near mosh pit scene that’s taken over the court.

“I smell like Budweiser from the fans,” Davis says later.

“We call him Charles Barkley.” — Michael Weathers on his twin brother Marcus, the undersized battler who manages to grab more rebounds than Houston’s 6-foot-11 center on this night.

People can get a little overexcited by wins like this. Beers don’t always survive a Top 10 toppling. College basketball has a way of shaking things up. Elite programs know how to keep going though. Houston does not stay in the visitors locker room long after the game. Chasing a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament does not allow for much wallowing.

“That’s pretty doggone good,” Sampson says of UH’s road record. “Especially for this group. Given the circumstances we’ve had to battle this year.”

SMU and Tim Jankovich’s circumstances are suddenly a lot better this morning. That’s what a presidential worthy win will do for you. You can always buy new folding chairs.

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