Behind Strong Bench, SMU Outlasts UC-Irvine 68-54

Published: Mar 20, 2014 05:33am EDT
By Michael Owen, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 20, 2014 @ 11:32am EDT


DALLAS -- Junior Center Cannen Cunningham scored 17 points off the bench to lead the SMU Mustangs past the UC_Irvine Anteaters 68-54 in the first round of the NIT, for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown's first college postseason victory in 26 years.

Freshman Ben Moore added an additional 11 points off the bench in the Mustangs' first NIT win since 2000. Nick Russell threw in 10 to lead all SMU starters. 

Number one seed SMU, who were ranked as high as No. 18 in both the AP and Coaches Poll this month, lost its final three games of the season, including losses to #22 Memphis on the road and #5 Louisville to miss out on the 68-team NCAA tournament. Their undoing may have been by a bad loss to the unranked University of Houston Cougars. The Mustangs will take on #5 seed LSU, who beat the University of  San Francisco Wednesday 71-63, Monday the 24th in the second round.

SMU (24-9) used a 23-7 run to start the second half to erase a 35-29 deficit, scoring inside and hitting free throws to take the lead to 53-42 with 8:16 left.

In one of the strangest runs of basketball ever witnessed, less than 2 minutes later, officials determined the Mustangs inadvertently were given a 1-and-1 opportunity too early, and they subtracted two points from SMU to make it 51-44 with 7:24 left. In the postgame press conference Coach Brown stated he didn't have a problem with the points being taken off of the board, but why they wouldn't get the ball back.

Official Bo Boroski stated after the gin the correctable error time frame ame "We sight a correctable error which is Rule 2, Section 12, article 1" . "We were because the next stoppage in play was the foul against SMU" Boroski stated. "We were in the correctable error timeframe, and by rule, we removed the unmerited free throws"

"In the NBA they go back to a correctable situation, but we lost the ball," Brown said. "Made two free throws, I could see them taking that away, but why did we lose the ball?"

Shortly after the overturned call, another Anteater foul was overturned after discussion by the referees.

"He called it foul," said Brown. "I've never seen that, but again they came over and explained it to me. They didn't like the rule. They told me they didn't like the rule, but that's the way it had to be called."

The call didn't seem to affect the Mustangs, as the Anteaters never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Luke Nelson led UC-Irvine (23-12) with 13 points, and Alex Young threw  in 10.

After the Anteaters turned a 30-29 halftime lead into a 35-29 advantage less than three minutes into the second half, SMU cranked up its intensity after sophomore center Markus Kennedy violently threw down a dunk to give the Mustangs a 37-35 lead and they never looked back.

"Cannen especially, he was being aggressive," Moore said. So I think that really picked up the tempo for us because we see him going hard and we see him really trying to be aggressive. So I think that really helped us out.

"I think we were fortunate that we got to play this game at home" Brown said about the NCAA snub. "I thought our crowd really helped us"  Brown went on. "Again, there is no need talking about the teams in the NCAA Tournament. We have an opportunity to play in a great tournament which is good for our program."

If the Mustangs can keep winning, they'll get a chance to do just that.



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