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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A loss to UConn was not the statement No. 21 SMU was hoping to make on Sunday in front of a national TV audience.
Rodney Purvis scored a career-high 28 points and Ryan Boatright added 23 as the defending national champions (17-11, 10-6 American), upset the Mustangs 81-73 and knocked them out of first place in the American Athletic Conference.
Markus Kennedy had 18 points to lead SMU (23-6, 14-3), which had won five straight, 13 of its past 14 and 21 of its past 23 games.
“We still know we’re the best team in this league,” Kennedy said. “We know we’re one of the best teams in the country. We’ve got just as many losses as Kansas now.”
Yanick Moreira added 14 points for SMU, but 12 of them came in the first half. Sterling Brown added 13 points. Leading scorer Nic Moore, who came in averaging 14.6 points per game, was held to nine.
The Mustangs led only once, 53-51, on a jumper in the lane by Kennedy with 8:10 left.
But UConn’s Daniel Hamilton responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to start a 17-4 UConn run. He hit a pair of free throws that gave UConn its largest lead at 68-57 with 4 minutes to play, and scored 14 of his 16 points in the final 7:41.
Kennedy cut the deficit to 71-67 on a jumper with 1:22 left. But UConn hit its free throws down the stretch.
“Offensively, we had a hard time guarding them, especially out on the perimeter,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “Hamilton, Boatright and Purvis, they all kind of got the ball in spots they wanted to.”
The Huskies shot 53 percent from the floor and made nine of their 20 3-point attempts.
Going into the last week of the regular season, SMU is a half-game behind Tulsa, which beat Memphis in overtime on Saturday. The Mustangs and Golden Hurricane meet in the regular-season finale on March 8 in Dallas. It will be the final home game six SMU seniors.
“I’m not worried about conference championships,” Brown said. “I’m worried about having those guys leave in the right way.”
UConn has won three straight and six of its past eight. The Huskies are in fifth place in the league, a game ahead of Memphis. The top five teams will get first-round byes when the conference tournament opens in Hartford on March 12.
“We’ve been kind of struggling as a team,” Purvis said. “So for us to come together at this point in the season when we really, really need too … I feel like there is no better time to come together.”
Purvis scored eight of the Huskies’ first 10 points as UConn jumped out to a 10-4 lead.
A lob pass from Boatright to Amida Brimah put UConn up 24-14, the Huskies’ largest lead of the first half, and prompted a timeout from Brown.
The Huskies led the entire half, but Moreira cut SMU’s deficit to 32-26 with a jump shot at the halftime buzzer. UConn improved to 10-0 when leading at intermission this season.
The Huskies are 11-3 at home and have won their past seven home games.
“We know if we keep winning every game, and win the tournament, they can’t keep us out,” Hamilton said.
UConn came into the game 0-4 all-time against SMU, including three losses since the founding of the AAC a year ago. The Mustangs’ margin of victory had been at least nine points in each of those games, and they beat the Huskies 73-55 in Texas last month.
Boatright (1,689 points) moved in front of Wes Bialosuknia (1,673) and into ninth place on UConn’s scoring list, behind Kemba Walker (1,783).
SMU had won a school-record seven consecutive road games, but fell to 8-4 away from home this season.
UConn heads back to campus to host Memphis at Gampel Pavilion before closing the season next Saturday at Temple. The Huskies lost to both teams earlier this season.
SMU has a week off before the showdown at home next Sunday against Tulsa.
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