TULSA, Okla. (AP) — SMU coach Larry Brown said it was gratifying during his nine-game suspension to start the season to hear people praise his team for its precise offensive execution, unselfishness and the unique passing skills evident throughout the roster.
Nothing has changed since his return.
No. 17 Southern Methodist carved up a Tulsa team that prides itself on defense, shooting 56.4 percent from the field and remaining one of five unbeaten Division I teams with an 81-69 victory Tuesday in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Shake Milton, a freshman from the Tulsa suburb of Owasso, was a prime beneficiary of SMU's rapid ball movement. He made 7 of 8 3-point attempts on his way to a career-high 24 points.
Nic Moore added 23 points for the Mustangs (12-0, 1-0), who are ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions.
Milton, who was 8 of 9 overall from the field, hit his second 3-pointer of the second half to give SMU a 60-48 lead with 13:08 remaining. The closest Tulsa came after that was 68-62 on a 3-pointer by James Woodard with 7:11 to play. The Mustangs scored on their next three possessions to make it 73-62 and cruised from there.
"When I was suspended, all I heard were guys talking about how unselfish we are and how well we pass the ball, particularly our bigs," Brown said. "Since I've been back, nothing has really changed. It's a value that our program is trying to be about. We don't care who gets the shot or the credit."
Tulsa coach Frank Haith said defending the Mustangs is extremely difficult when they are shooting that well.
"The big guys are so good at passing and so aware, it really gives them something most teams don't have," Haith said. "Not many bigs can make the plays they do and it's a big-time advantage for them."
Milton's shots were mostly wide open corner jumpers after the Tulsa defense had collapsed on those inside players. Ben Moore added 11 points and 10 rebounds for SMU.
Woodard led Tulsa (8-5, 0-0) with 22 points, followed by Shaquille Harrison with 15 and D'Andre Wright with 14. The Golden Hurricane shot 44.1 percent, but had no answers defensively for the Mustangs, who led for the final 36 minutes.
Milton helped SMU to a 41-35 halftime lead by making his first six shots, including five unguarded 3-pointers, before missing a contested 3 on the final possession. With Moore and Markus Kennedy making 5 of 6 shots inside, the Mustangs shot 59.3 percent for the half, then scored on their first six possessions of the second half to push the lead to 55-44.
Tulsa made just three of nine free throws in the half, including twice missing the front end of a 1-and-1. Tulsa finished 11 of 22 from the free throw line.
Milton made four 3-pointers to help stake SMU to a 22-11 lead and Woodard made 3 of 4 in the first half to help Tulsa claw back in. "I thought Shake and Woodard were playing horse," Brown said. "It was good Shake made those early because were a little unsteady early with some turnovers. But I thought once we settled in we really executed well."
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Haith said trying to stop Moore out on top with the variety of screen and rolls SMU executes and then finding the wing players is difficult.
"They're really improved their skill level on the perimeter," Haith said. "Not only do they have Nic, who is one of the best point guards in the country, but Shake is a very good player and so is Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown. They have a lot of ways to hurt you."
Haith said SMU "picked on" a few of his players, going after their ball defending skills.
"They went after some of our guys and we didn't respond," Haith said. "We've got to do a better job guarding."
SMU: The victory was SMU's fourth consecutive over Tulsa, including a 67-62 win in March in Dallas that lifted the Ponies to the American Conference championship and probably cost Tulsa an NCAA Tournament berth. ... Milton, whose recruiting choices came down to SMU, Oklahoma, UCLA and others, was not a serious candidate to become a Hurricane.
TULSA: Haith said he was no longer going to discuss free throws after another abysmal performance by his team. Missed free throws have cost Tulsa in several of its five losses and Tulsa easily could have been tied or ahead at halftime with a better performance at the free throw line. The Hurricane were shooting 68 percent coming in.
SMU hosts South Florida on Saturday.
Tulsa visits No. 22 Cincinnati on Saturday.