DALLAS (AP) – Cannen Cunningham scored 17 points to lead SMU to a 68-54 victory Wednesday night over UC-Irvine in the first round of the NIT, giving Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown his first college postseason victory in 26 years.
Ben Moore added 11 points in the Mustangs’ first NIT win since 2000. Nick Russell had 10.
Top-seeded SMU, which was ranked as high as No. 18 this month, lost its final three games of the season to miss out on the 68-team NCAA tournament. The Mustangs will face LSU in the second round
SMU (24-9) used a 23-7 run in the second half to erase a 35-29 deficit, scoring inside and hitting free throws to balloon the lead to 53-42 with 8:16 left.
However, 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 the hosts to make it 51-44 with 7:24 left.
“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?”
Soon after the overturned call, a UC-Irvine foul was overturned after discussion by the referees.
“He called it foul,” said Brown, who turns 74 in September. “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 No. 8 seed UC-Irvine (23-12) with 13 points, and Alex Young chipped 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 to erase the lead.
“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.”
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