Following a mid-week loss against conference rival Tulsa, many felt the SMU Mustangs were regressing. Perhaps the weight of the NCAA sanctions, the seven-man rotation and the window closing on the college basketball careers of their seniors was finally catching up to them. This was especially evident in Nic Moore, who led the Mustangs with 27 points, but produced just three assists, failing to control the game on the offensive end by getting his teammates involved.
In contrast, Tulsa’s guard combination of James Woodard and Shaq Harrison combined for 41 points, 11 assists and just three turnovers. Moore produced five turnovers by himself. Thus, it’s no surprise that the Mustangs fell to the Golden Hurricane, despite the fact that SMU appeared the more talented team for much of the contest.
Clearly, that loss set off Moore, whose time as an SMU Mustang is running out, and he vowed to correct the loss in the Mustangs’ next game against Gonzaga, the marquee opponent visiting Moody Coliseum this season. After a pregame speech from none other than former president George W. Bush, Moore led the Mustangs with 25 points and 11 assists, en route to a 69-60 victory over the ‘Zags, which snapped the visitor’s six-game winning streak.
Against Gonzaga, there was never any doubt that it was Moore’s court, and everyone else was just borrowing it. Moore turned the ball over just once, despite being the primary ball handler on nearly every Mustangs’ possession and playing all 40 minutes of the game.
While off shooting nights from Shake Milton and Sterling Brown threatened to derail the Mustangs’ victory, Moore as able to deftly find Ben Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert in low post pockets of the defense, allowing easy baskets against a strong Gonzaga post presence to preserve SMU’s lead down the stretch.
Even Doris Burke, who announced the Gonzaga game for ESPN Saturday night, remarked on how impressive Moore was against other guards in college basketball this season, saying she felt Moore “doesn’t get the attention he deserves on the national stage.” SMU fans have clamored for years to see their point guard get some national attention, and hopefully the combination of Burke’s commentary and influence, as well as Moore’s achievement of reaching the top 20 finalists for this season’s Wooden Award will help the SMU guard reach those heights.
Not only is Moore putting up 16.7 points, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, but he is also serving as SMU’s unquestioned leader on the court, embodying the ultimate floor general as he marches his team to victory.
Of the seven scholarship players on the SMU roster, five rank in the top 16 in PER in the entire conference, with the two freshmen following just outside that categorization. Anyone who has watched SMU this season knows that is a result of Moore’s playmaking ability, as he puts his teammates in the best possible position to be successful, often finding them with a quick pass or keeping defenders off balance with his nearly 42 percent shooting percentage from long range.
The small guard has seen his value increase in the modern game of basketball, and Moore is built exactly in that mold. His play against Gonzaga demonstrates an ability to step up to the challenge when the Mustangs need him and the incredible improvement of his teammates can be at least partially attributed to Nic.
With the Wooden Award list shrinking by the day, Moore deserves a spot in the next round of finalists.