SMU To Take On #21 UConn In Conference Battle

Published: Feb 23, 2014 03:16am EST
By Michael Owen, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Feb 23, 2014 @ 03:16am EST


Storrs, CT -- The SMU Mustangs (21-6, 10-4 American) travel to Gampel Pavillion in Storrs, Conn to take on the #21 ranked Connecticut Huskies on Sunday for a 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT Nationally Televised battle on CBS Sports Network. The Mustangs have won 21 games for the seventh time in program history, and the first time since the 1999-00 season when they finished 21-9. On this run SMU has also won 10 conference games for the first time since it had 11 WAC victories in the 2002-03 season. The Mustangs have played up to their opponents level every time they've faced a ranked team as they have compiled a 3-1 against ranked opponents this season (losing only to NCAA Champion Louisville) including a 74-65 win over then #15 Connecticut when they re-opened Moody Coliseum after a $47 mil renovation of the 57 year gym. SMU is coming off a 68-64 home win over Houston on Wednesday in which strong bench play led the way for the Ponies.

Defense has been the key for the resurgent Mustangs as they are second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (1st in the AAC), while holding holding opponents to 37.1% on the year. The Mustang defense is allowing just 61.6 points per game, 19th in the NCAA (3rd American). SMU has held opponents to under 40% shooting in 20 of 27 games this year while also being dominant on the boards as well as the Ponies have out rebounded 22 of 27 opponents this season.

From an offensive standpoint, SMU has been stellar as well as they lead the conference in field-goal percentage, while shooting 49.3%, good for 12th in the nation. In addition, the Mustangs are also shooting 36.1% from 3 point range, good for third in the conference and they are also third in the league and 37th in the NCAA in assists per game at 15.2  while averaging 72.5 points per game. Offensively the SMU has also been dominant down low and have outscored 24 of 27 opponents in the paint by an average of 35-21.

Despite taking a bad loss at Temple last Sunday, finishing their 1st week as a ranked team in decades, SMU still received votes in both the AP and the USA Today coaches poll this past week and a win at UConn could help vault them back into the rankings. SMU came into the week at No. 49 in the NCAA Men's Basketball RPI, one of five American Athletic Conference teams in the top 50. SMU is 4-4 against teams in the RPI top 85. Sitting in third in The American standings SMU has already clinched a first-round bye in conference tournament held in Memphis in 3 weeks,.

LAST GAME (W, 68-64 VS HOUSTON ON FEB. 19)DALLAS -- Despite a sluggish start, the SMU Mustangs topped the Houston Cougars 68-64 behind Nic Moore's 16 points and dazzling work from the bench, led by Cannen Cunningham.

The Mustangs bench and depth proved to be the difference in the game as they outscored the Cougars bench 31-23 and out-rebounded them 21-8 from the pine.

Cannen Cunningham led the Mustangs (21-6, 10-4 American Athletic Conference) off the bench with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in only 17 minutes of play and while those numbers seem very pedestrian, all 6 points, both blocks and 4 of his rebounds came at very opportune times, were game changers and were completely intangible on the scoresheet.

Houston (12-14, 4-9) was led by Jherrod Stiggers with 16 points off the bench. TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House added 15 points each. Thirteen of House's points came in the first half.

SMU broke a tie at 39 early in the second half and never looked behind but couldn't shake the Cougars until the final minutes. SMU led by five points with 56 seconds to play before four free throws by Nic Moore and 6th man Ben Moore pushed its lead to nine with 19 seconds left.

The Mustangs now have already won more games this season than any other SMU team since the 1999-00 season when they finished 21-9. This is their 10th 20-win season in the program's history. SMU, seeking to earn its first berth to the NCAA Tournament since 1993, is third in the conference standings.

SMU, is now 14-0 at home including 8-0 at the newly remodeled Moody Coliseum (they played the first six off campus while the 57-year-old Moody was finishing a $47 million renovation) to build the program's longest home winning streak since 1984-85.

After starting the season 10-5 and with high hopes, the Cougars now have lost seven of their last eight games and nine of their last 11, keeping them entrenched in the bottom half of the newly formed AAC.

On yet another star studded night at Moody, with former President George Bush in attendance, accompanied by the lovely and talented former First Lady (and '68 SMU grad) Laura Bush, as well as Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban and "local guy" Fran Fraschilla (ESPN College Basketball Analyst and former coach at Manhattan, Saint John's and New Mexico) the Moody Madness was at full throttle once again. (Side note: This reporter LITERALLY ran into the former Prez and didn't even get frisked).

The night didn't start so well for the Ponies as they trailed for most of the first half, due to Houston nailing some of their early 3-point shots. House sank three of his first four attempts from behind in the arc during the opening five minutes, and Houston used four 3-pointers in build a 14-6 lead early on. 

SMU leader Markus Kennedy, averaging 13 points per game and 8 boards each, in his first season since transferring from Villanova, got benched early after picking up two fouls. He played only 20 minutes and finished with only four points.

The Mustangs led 32-30 lead at intermission with Cunningham and the other reserves contributing 18 points.

Cunningham started every game last season as a junior but has accepted his role as a reserve among a deeper SMU frontcourt.

"I'm not going to say it's not frustrating 'cause we're all competitive guys," Cunningham said. "We all want to play, but I think we've probably done as good as we can do buying in."

SMU coach Larry Brown, disappointed in his team’s effort at Temple, could sense a change once from the moment they returned home.

“The thing that was most disappointing was we didn’t bring it,” Brown said of the Temple loss.. “We got outplayed, I got outcoached and I think it was helpful when we got off the bus and saw the students. When our kids saw the students camping out, it sunk in because a lot of people care about how we’re doing.”

Cunningham said after the game that he was moved by the students camping out:

“I wouldn’t sleep outside, for too many things in the world, the fact that they would do that to come out and see us play is pretty inspiring and humbling". 

The road for the Mustangs gets tougher as they head to #21 UConn for a nationally televised game on Sunday afternoon before closing out the season with conference foe UCF at home March 1st and huge tests to close out the regular season on the road at #22 Memphis and reigning National Champ Louisville at home.

Things just get more interesting in the House That Larry Built


THE WEEK AHEAD: SMU will to return from Storr for a quick two-game homestand with a matchup against conference foe UCF on March 1 at 3 p.m CT that will also be nationally televised on ESPNews. After that the Ponies then take on  #11/#5 and reigning National Champ, Louisville on March 5 at 6 p.m. CT, that will pit 2 Hall of Fame coaches agaisnt each other for the 2nd time this season.  That game will also be b=nationally televised on the CBS Sports Network. Both the SMU's final home games are sold out.


Quick facts on Mustang Hall of Fame Head Coach Larry Brown: Coach Brown was named head men's basketball coach at SMU on April 19, 2012. He is the only head coach to win both an NCAA title (Kansas 1988) and an NBA Championship (Detroit 2004). Brown was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach on Sept. 27, 2002. He is in his 39th season as a head coach and 9th at the NCAA level. He has an overall record of 1689-1215 when combining his head coaching marks from the NBA, the ABA, the NCAA and USA Basketball. His collegiate record is 213-84 (36-23 at SMU), making the NCAA tournament in his first seven seasons including three Final Fours (1980, 1986, 1988) and the 1988 NCAA title.


(Image Courtesy Ray Carlin/Icon SMI)

(Stats Courtesy SMU Basketball)


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