By Tommy Smith
UNIVERSITY PARK — March Madness was alive and well in Dallas Wednesday night, as the defending National Champion Louisville Cardinals defeated the SMU Mustangs 84-71 in front of a single-season school record seventh sellout at Moody Coliseum. After controlling the game early in the first half, SMU (23-7, 12-5) lost its poise and a 14 point lead to fall to the Cardinals (25-5, 14-3). The loss was the first of the season for the Mustangs at home, as they finished the season 15-1 in front of their home fans.
“I don’t think we showed any poise at all, you know late,” said SMU coach Larry Brown after the game. “I don’t think we showed any poise when they went after us and again that is what coaches are supposed to do. Your supposed to help kids handle adversity and I don’t think I did a very good job in that respect.”
The poise Brown is referring to is his team’s inexperience in winning games he believes they should win to become an elite program. “I said this after we lost to Louisville (Jan. 12) and lost to Cincinnati (Jan. 1), we don’t have that look in our eyes. We don’t understand that everything doesn’t always go for you. You have to be man enough to fight through it and be supportive of one another and it is amazing what you can do. This will give me a lot to talk about,” said Brown.
The Mustangs started the game fast, taking a 14 point lead with 7:08 left in the first half. From there however, Louisville was able to weather the storm and take control of the game showing why the won a championship last season.
The Cardinals were led by guards Chris Jones and Russ Smith who combined for 47 points, 7 assists, 8 steals and 8 rebounds. The back court tandem proved to be too much for SMU guards Nic Moore, Sterling Brown and Nick Russell who all found themselves in foul trouble and turning the ball over once Louisville got their game going late in the second half.
Moore finished the game with just 5 points, 4 turnovers and 4 personal fouls while he and his teammates showed frustration at times with the refs and the team’s play. “I saw some ugly stuff out there, you know the way we acted,” said Brown. “Forget ugly play, but just the way we acted. You know, letting calls and what they though should have been a call and maybe a teammate missing an assignment you know, you need to get over that. I didn’t think we were focusing on what we needed to do.”
Louisville entered the game second in the nation in turnover margin (6.7) and forced 23 SMU turnovers that they turned into 25 points. When the Mustangs did cut down the mistakes handling the ball, Louisville turned up their offense, shooting 59.3% in the second half, including converting 8 of their 12 second half three-point shots. Smith went 6-6 on three-point attempts in the second half and shot 9-15 from the floor for the game. SMU entered Wednesday first in the American Athletic Conference and second in the nation in opponents field goal percentage (36.9%). Louisville shot just 34.5% from the field in the first half but turned that around as the Mustangs began to unfold in the second half.
Though the Mustangs cut the Louisville lead to 55-54 with 8:33 left in regulation, after Keith Frazier hit his only basket of the night, SMU never grabbed the lead again falling behind 76-63 with 2:54 left.
Nick Russell led the Mustangs with 18 points in his final home game as a Mustang, however he was responsible for 8 turnovers on the night. Forward Markus Kennedy turned in another solid performance for SMU scoring 14 points shooting 6-13 from the floor, while adding 6 rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes.
SMU travels to Memphis to close out the regular season March 8. The team will stay in Memphis as they prepare for the AAC Conference tournament which begins March 12th at the Fed Ex Forum. SMU is currently a half game ahead of the Tigers in the conference and a loss to Memphis Sunday could force a rematch between the two teams in the first found of the tournament.
The Mustangs still look like they have a spot in the NCAA Tournament locked up after posting the largest RPI turnaround from last season, improving 172 spots entering Wednesdays game. SMU was ranked 18th in both polls with an RPI ranking of 41.
- SMU Coach Larry Brown was named a National Coach of the Year finalist by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
- SMU’s 23 wins is tied for fifth-most in program history.
- SMU held a 34-22 edge in the paint, winning the points in the paint battle for the 26th time in 30 games.