#23 SMU Takes Care of Business, Tops UCF 70-55

Published: Mar 02, 2014 15:02pm EST
By Michael Owen, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 02, 2014 @ 03:02pm EST


DALLAS – For the first time in 29 years the SMU Mustangs won a home game as a ranked team by beating Central Florida 70-55 Saturday afternoon, as they gear up for what will likely be their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 21 years

Things are looking up on the Hilltop despite Coach Larry Brown’s dismay of the Ponies performance Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t like the way we played tonight” said Brown. “I don’t want to sit here after winning by 15 and I have a lot of respect for Central Florida, I watched them come back the other night from 19 down (note: it was 15)and watched them win” Brown continued, “but we didn’t play like a ranked team tonight.”

"This ranking doesn't mean anything to me right now," Brown said. "I'm proud of the fact that we're in the top 25 in a lot of people's eyes, but we've got a lot of things ahead of us and a lot of great opportunities. And we've got to do better than we did today."

The Ponies were led by Markus Kennedy with 18 points and eight boards plus 13 points (11 in the 2nd half) from freshman Nic Moore who also added 6 assists and 4 steals.

Isaiah Sykes  lead the Knights with 18 points as well.

"Nic Moore made the difference," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "His two big 3s were huge. Obviously Markus Kennedy and him (Nic Moore) are a mismatch for a lot of teams. You can play out of the post or you can play out of the perimeter." 

The Mustangs (23-6, 12-4 American Athletic) improved to 15-0 at home and 9-0 at newly renovated Moody Coliseum, going into SMU's final home game Wednesday night against seventh-ranked Louisville. The Cardinals lost to No. 21 Memphis 72-66 on Saturday.

The Mustangs were hoping to go into their huge home finale with a more convincing win, particularly considering they ran out to an early 18-4 lead propelled by shooting a hot 8-11 shooting, including 2 of 3 beyond the arc at 11:46. UCF (11-16, 3-13) however was able to keep it close and were able to cut the lead to nine with 7 minutes left, only three days after wiping out the aforementioned 15-point deficit in a win over Rutgers.

“I just think they played harder than us” Brown said.

The win came in SMU's first home game as a ranked team since March 9, 1985, when the Mustangs lost to Arkansas 68-55. Their last home win as a ranked team was Feb 23rd 1985 in a 64-60 victory over Texas back in the days of the old Southwest Conference.

The Mustangs managed to climb into the rankings 2 weeks ago for the first time since the 1984-85 season but dropped out the next week after a bad loss at Temple, a team they had cruised by only a week before.

SMU returned to the poll this week after beating then-No. 21 Connecticut on the road last Sunday to improve to 4-1 against ranked teams (their only loss coming at the hands of the upcoming Louisville squad), but there was much concern coming into this game as they have a pattern of playing to their opponents level against ranked teams (big wins against UConn-twice, Cincinnati, and Memphis), but also poor showings against what would be considered inferior teams (bad losses to Temple and South Florida, plus a narrow 68-64 win over Houston) .

But in a game they never trailed and led by as much as 18 points, they won their 12th game in the last 14 contests, despite not being happy with their effort, but won by 15.  Regardless how they finish out their final 2 regular season games and barring a complete collapse in the Conference tournament, the Ponies can almost count on a return to the NCAA tournament where they last played in a first-round loss to BYU in 1993 and hadn’t had a win since 1988, the year Brown won the title with Kansas.

"We didn't play like a ranked team," Brown said. "We took bad shots. Defensively we tried to turn it on and turn it off and you can't do that."

For the 22nd time in 29 games this year, the Mustangs held a team to under 40% shooting as UCF (21-56, 37.5%) shot less than 20 percent for most of the first half before getting hot and closing the gap to 25-21 on a 3-pointer from Kasey Wilson, who had a chance moments later to make it a one-point game but missed from beyond the arc at the top of the key, just before the Mustangs went on a 9-2 run thanks to strong bench play from Cannen Cunningham and Ryan Manuel to close the half with a 34-23 lead.

The Mustangs look to complete their undefeated home season #7 against Louisville on Wednesday and then complete their season sweep of #21 Memphis, who beat The Cardinals Sunday, 72-66, on March 8th.

This should be a good trial run for the up and coming Mustangs, as March will only get madder.

(JOHN F. RHODES — AP Photos)


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