DALLAS (AP) – One of the first things SMU coach Larry Brown told his players after being left out of the NCAA tournament was that he didn’t want to hear any crying or complaining.
The Hall of Fame coach also said the Mustangs have only themselves to blame. Their only losing streak of the season — three consecutive losses, including to Houston in last week’s American Athletic Conference tournament opener — came at the most inopportune time.
“Every time we hit adversity, I didn’t think we handled it great. And we had opportunities to learn from it, and I don’t think we learned from it,” the 73-year-old Brown said. “It’s a learning process. I think we have good kids. I think we’ll be better for this, and I certainly hope I am. … Hopefully it will help our program get to the point where we want it to be.”
The Mustangs (23-9) still have games to play, as a No. 1 seed in the NIT. That means as many as three more games this season at renovated Moody Coliseum for their only two seniors, Shawn Williams and Nick Russell. They play Big West Conference regular-season champion UC Irvine (23-11) on Wednesday night.
For all the improvement SMU has made in two seasons under Brown, including four wins this season over Top 25 teams, the most overall wins since 1988 weren’t enough to get the Mustangs in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.
“I can’t believe it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, who spoke with Brown on Sunday morning. “He wasn’t cocky by any stretch but he was confident they’d get in. … I feel bad for them because I know what a great season they had, how well they’d done, how they revived that program.”
SMU won its first nine games on campus after moving back midseason. The only loss there was in the regular-season home finale against defending national champion Louisville, which overcame an early 14-point deficit to lead by halftime on way to a 13-point victory.
A nine-point loss followed at then-No. 20 Memphis, which had lost by 15 points at SMU a month earlier. The Mustangs led by nine at halftime in the AAC tournament before the 68-644 loss to Houston, a 29-point loser the next day against the Cardinals.
“The last two weeks, we showed a lack of character in a lot of ways. We didn’t act the right way the last three games, and I talked about it, and I think it bit us,” Brown said. “Like coach (Dean) Smith told me, you recognize the mistake, you learn from it, and you move on and you don’t do it again. So that’s the way we’ve got to approach it. We’ve got to be thankful we’re going to get another opportunity to play, and if we think we were slighted, the best way to show people that maybe we deserve to be there is to play at a high level.”
Cincinnati, Memphis and UConn — AAC foes SMU beat, including the Huskies twice, are in the 68-team NCAA field with Louisville.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think (the NCAA selection committee) felt our conference was worthy of having five teams in it,” Brown said.
Even though the Mustangs took NCAA No. 1 seed Virginia down to the wire in a 76-73 loss and beat Texas A&M in the same November tournament, they were hurt by a poor strength of schedule in non-conference games. Their home slate while having playing off campus included the likes of Texas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Sam Houston State.
“I think there’s a great life lesson for all of us,” Brown said. “At the end of the day to me, this has got to be something that we’ve got to turn a real disappointment into a positive.”
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