DALLAS (AP) — Moody Madness indeed, and quicker than even Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown thought.
Nick Russell had 15 points to go with a couple of big steals as SMU beat No. 7 Cincinnati 76-55 on Saturday night, ending the Bearcats’ 15-game winning streak. It was the Mustangs’ third win over a Top 25 team in seven games since moving back into renovated Moody Coliseum on campus five weeks ago.
“If we didn’t have a good team, all we’d have is a beautiful building,” said Brown, in his second season at SMU. “I didn’t imagine it would be like this this quickly. But I was hopeful that we could get it that people wanted to see our team play and appreciate the fact that we’re playing hard and playing the right way.”
Before their recent surge, the Mustangs (19-5, 8-3 American Athletic Conference) hadn’t defeated a ranked opponent anywhere since December 2003. They hadn’t had multiple wins against Top 25 teams in the same season since 1984-85, the last time SMU appeared in the poll. They reached as high as No. 2 that season.
After this one, fans rushed the floor to celebrate.
“It was crazy,” said Cannen Cunningham, who had 11 points. “Everybody’s my best friend now.”
Russell had two steals in less than a minute that led to breakaway baskets, with a 3-pointer from Nic Moore in between, to cap an 11-0 run by the Mustangs after Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1) cut the gap to 48-41 midway through the second half.
“There’s not much to say. They beat us in every facet of the game,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. “We didn’t meet the challenge. … I think we just got rattled, no question about it. We didn’t show poise.”
Cincinnati, with its highest ranking in 10 years, hadn’t lost since dropping consecutive games against New Mexico and Xavier in the first half of December. The Bearcats beat SMU 65-57 at home in the AAC opener on New Year’s Day.
Ben Moore also had 15 points for SMU, while Nic Moore scored 14.
AAC scoring leader Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 22 points on 5-of-18 shooting, including 3 for 12 on 3-pointers.
The Bearcats scored six points in a row to make it 48-41, the closest they had been since there were 3 minutes left in the first half, when Titus Rubles hit two free throws after being fouled on a breakaway drive after stealing a pass. They didn’t get any closer after Russell made a layup after Markus Kennedy broke through two defenders and passed him the ball.
SMU was back up 59-41 with 8:13 left when Russell had a steal and broke free for a thunderous, one-handed dunk. Nic Moore hit a 3-pointer right before that, after Ben Moore’s breakaway layup that came after another steal by Russell.
“When Nick got a steal and they didn’t even try to run back with him, I figured it was over,” Cunningham said.
The sellout crowd in the 7,000-seat building broke into chants of “Larry! Larry! Larry!” several times — from before tipoff until late in the game. While students at one end serenaded Cincinnati players with “Over-rated,” students sitting at the end near Brown and the SMU bench yelled out “Under-rated!”
Maybe that won’t be the case any more for the Mustangs after another convincing victory over a ranked team.
The Mustangs won all six of their home games played off campus before re-opening Moody Coliseum with a 74-65 win Jan. 4 over then-No. 17 UConn. Last Saturday, SMU beat then-No. 22 Memphis 87-72.
“At the beginning of the year, we knew that we believed in each other, but not a lot of people did,” Russell said. “I’m sure nobody expected us to be here. We knew what we had: We’ve got a great coach, a great coaching staff — the sky’s the limit.”
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