Moments after his team’s surprising victory at seventh-ranked Wichita State on Wednesday night, SMU coach Tim Jankovich fielded a question from ESPN’s broadcast team about junior guard Shake Milton’s brilliant performance.
“I didn’t notice him much,” Jankovich answered with a wry smile. “Did he do anything?”
All Milton did was put shorthanded SMU on his back and carry the Mustangs to a potentially season-altering victory. The 6-foot-6 guard scored an ultra-efficient 33 points on 11-for-14 shooting and sank several key shots down the stretch as SMU withstood a late charge from Wichita State and emerged with an 83-78 road victory.
Milton’s most crucial shot was a basket in the lane that extended SMU’s lead to six with less than a minute to play. Everyone in the arena knew SMU would put the ball in Milton’s hands and have him create off the dribble, yet the Mustangs star was still able to get Austin Reaves on his hip, elevate over him and sink a shot that all but put the game out of reach.
A dominant showing from Milton will only help to solidify him as a potential first-round pick in next June’s NBA draft. He’s intriguing to NBA scouts because he’s an excellent outside shooter, he passes well enough to spend some time point guard and he has the size and quickness to defend multiple positions.
The full arsenal was on display from Milton on Wednesday night. He consistently finished through contact at the rim, got to the foul line six times and buried 5 of 6 threes.
Milton’s performance helped SMU halt a three-game losing streak during which the Mustangs had lost a pair of games by a total of five points. Sandwiched around a blowout loss at Cincinnati was a 73-70 upset at Tulane and a buzzer-beating home loss to Temple.
Despite that rough stretch, SMU is now in strong position to be the third American Athletic Conference team to claim an NCAA tournament bid.
The Mustangs (13-6, 3-3) own a pair of marquee victories away from home against Arizona and Wichita State and two other potentially useful wins over USC and Boise State. They have a bunch of winnable games ahead and cracks at conference frontrunners Wichita State and Cincinnati at home awaiting in February.
The loss of wing Jarrey Foster to a knee injury on Wednesday night is a definite concern, especially since he was unable to put much weight on it coming off the floor. SMU’s second-leading scorer was diagnosed with a knee sprain, but he’ll undergo an MRI to confirm there’s no structural damage later this week.
The way Milton played Wednesday night, SMU might be able to survive an extended absence from Foster. Milton was so dominant that even his coach had to give him credit … eventually.
“How many guys have played better this season?” Jankovic said. “I’m sure there have been but I don’t get too watch many games besides us. He was absolutely fabulous.”
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