SMU Basketball sweeps Connecticut 64-55
The SMU men’s basketball team took a giant step towards securing an NCAA Tournament bid Sunday afternoon when they beat number 21 Connecticut 64-55 in Storrs, Connecticut. It was the Mustangs’ fourth win of the season over a ranked team, but the first away from the friendly confines of Moody Coliseum. It also completed a sweep of the Huskies, as the Mustangs earlier beat Connecticut on January 4 in the first game played in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum.
Today’s win improved SMU’s record to 22-6 overall and 11-4 in American Athletic Conference play. Connecticut fell to 21-6 and 9-5. The Ponies fell out of the AP Top 25 last week after losing to Temple last Sunday. This win following Wednesday’s drubbing of Houston probably puts SMU back in next week.
SMU was a 6.5 point underdog on the betting line, but jumped out to a 7-0 lead after both teams started slowly with neither team scoring for more than four minutes to start the game. The Mustangs never trailed, and Connecticut managed to tie just twice. Nick Russell (15), Nic Moore (15) and Markus Kennedy (13) led the Ponies’ scoring charge.
Connecticut guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright led the Huskies in scoring; each with 15 points. Both however struggled against SMU’s strong defense. Napier was 5-16 and Boatright was 3-12 from the field.
The Mustangs came into the game leading the conference and ranked second in the nation in field goal percentage defense at 37.1% and improved that number as Connecticut shot just 29.6% in what has become a trademark of this year’s SMU team. The Ponies were also third in the conference and 19th in the nation with 61.6 points per game allowed, another figure that improved by holding Connecticut to 55 points.
SMU held as much as a nine-point lead in the first half, but Connecticut scrambled to tie the game at 25. Kennedy knocked down a pair of free throws with 22 seconds remaining to send the Ponies to the halftime locker room with a 27-25 lead. The Mustangs took control in the second half early scoring the first six points. The lead stretched to as many as 12, before the Huskies cut it down to the final nine-point margin.
SMU head coach Larry Brown was obviously pleased after the game on his post game radio show (KAAM 770 AM). “I’m just thrilled. I’m thrilled for our school. I’m thrilled for our alums. It was a huge win for us.” As for the game itself, he said, “We defended great. We rebounded in the second half. We shared the ball.”
The win pulled SMU one-half game ahead of Memphis for third place in the conference. Both have four losses. They trail Cincinnati and Louisville, both with two losses, though Cincinnati is one-half game ahead of the Cardinals with 13 verses 12 wins.
On Saturday, Shelby’s Bracket W.A.G. (bracketwag.com), a site that projects the NCAA Tournament participants had SMU as a 10 seed in the Midwest region. They were one of 13 teams written in red, with the note “Teams in Red are on the bubble or have work left to do.” Sunday’s win over Connecticut goes a long way toward the work that SMU needs to get done to participate in the tournament this year.
The Ponies are off until next Saturday, when they play Central Florida at Moody Coliseum at 3:00 PM (Central). It’s the first of a two game home stand that completes this season’s home schedule. Louisville will oppose SMU on March 5 in the home finale, before the Mustangs head to Memphis for their two ensuing games – a regular season matchup with Memphis to complete conference play and the first game in the conference tournament.
* 22 wins is the fifth most in school history.
* SMU is 4-1 against ranked teams this year, beating Connecticut twice, Cincinnati, and Memphis; while losing to Louisville. The last time the Mustangs defeated four ranked teams in a season was 1955-56.