DALLAS (AP) – The seeds of SMU’s 68-64 victory over Houston on Wednesday night were sown hours after the Mustangs suffered an upset loss at Temple on Sunday afternoon that ended their first stay in The Associated Press college basketball poll in 29 years at only one week.
The team got off the bus at campus that night to find students camped out at the school’s ticket office. So much for moping.
“To go out there and see them smile when they saw us, it made us feel good,” SMU’s Cannen Cunningham said. “I wouldn’t sleep outside for too many things.”
Nic Moore scored 16 points and Cunningham provided a spark off the bench to help SMU squeeze past Houston.
The bench played a big role in the victory for the Mustangs (21-6, 10-4 American Athletic Conference), scoring 31 points and grabbing 21 rebounds. Cunningham had six points and six boards.
SMU coach Larry Brown said the late-night rousing reception contributed to the bounce-back victory.
“A lot of people care about how we’re doing,” said Brown, whose team tied a school record with its fifth sellout crowd at Moody Coliseum on Wednesday and has already sold out the two remaining home games.
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 to take the lead for good but didn’t shake Houston until the final minutes. The Mustangs led by five points with 56 seconds to play before four free throws by Nic Moore and Ben Moore pushed their lead to nine with 19 seconds left.
SMU has already won more games this season than any SMU team since the 1999-00 season. The Mustangs, seeking to earn their first berth to the NCAA Tournament since 1993, are third in the conference standings.
They’ve won all 14 home games this season to build the program’s longest home winning streak since 1984-85.
The Cougars have lost seven of their last eight games and nine of their last 11. They were swept this season by the Mustangs — whom they’ve been conference rivals with playing in three different leagues beginning in the 1975-76 season — and were hurt particularly on the boards in both games.
“Every SMU player got a rebound,” Cougars coach James Dickey said. “We’ve got to value more to our game than just the offensive end. There’s more on the stat sheet. We’ve got to fill up more than shots.”
The Mustangs trailed for most of the first half, thanks early on to Houston’s accuracy on 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.
SMU’s Markus Kennedy, averaging 12 points per game in his first season since transferring from Villanova, was benched at that same time for the balance of the half 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.”
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