HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – SMU may simply be running out of gas.
The 21st-ranked Mustangs lost 68-62 to UConn on Thursday night, their fourth loss in seven games after an 18-0 start.
Coach Larry Brown said he didn’t want to make excuses, but noted that he has just seven players who see the court on a team that has no chance of seeing postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.
“It’s hard, because I’m playing guys too many minutes,” he said. “And when you play in this kind of environment, with (UConn’s) kind of depth, it’s hard not to be proud of your team.”
Nic Moore scored 14 points and Ben Moore had 13 points and 12 rebounds for SMU (21-4, 9-4 American).
Amida Brimah had 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks to lead UConn. The 7-foot junior was playing in his sixth game since returning from a broken finger.
Daniel Hamilton scored 14 points and made two key free throws late for the Huskies (19-7, 9-4) and Shonn Miller added 12 points and seven rebounds.
A dunk by Brimah on a lob pass from Omar Calhoun capped an 8-0 run that gave the Huskies a 61-52 lead with just under 5 minutes left in the game.
But UConn has had a hard time holding big second-half leads. They led by 12 points in the second half before losing to Temple a week ago and led by 20 before holding on for a two-point win over Tulsa last Saturday.
The Mustangs also battled back. Nic Moore’s jumper made it 64-62 with 1:19 left. SMU had a chance to tie it again when Brimah was called for a foul while trying to block a driving layup by Markus Kennedy with 37 seconds left. But Kennedy missed both free throws.
Shake Milton missed a 3-point attempt with 17 seconds left that could have cut the lead to a point and Hamilton hit two free throws on the other end to secure the win.
“It’s a real big loss,” Nic Moore said. “We had a chance. Looking down the stretch, they just made shots and we didn’t.”
The Huskies have won five of their last six games.
Brimah had scored just 19 total points in the five previous games since his return and had been in early foul trouble in most of them.
He had no fouls at halftime and finished with just two, playing 33 minutes.
The Mustangs came into the night a half-game behind Temple for the lead in the race for the regular-season title, the only one they can win because of the NCAA sanctions.
Nic Moore said that goal is still in reach and the Mustangs, especially he and the other seniors, are not about give up on the season.
“I just told the guys, `These are my last five games, make it fun for me,”‘ he said.
The teams meet again in Dallas on March 3.
SMU: The Mustangs, who won last year’s American Athletic Conference Tournament in this arena, had won 14 of their last 17 road games and are 6-3 away from home this season.
UConn: The Huskies hit five 3-pointers, extending their streak of hitting at least one 3 to 235 straight games. The Huskies last failed to make a 3-pointer on Nov. 27, 2009, against Duke at Madison Square Garden.
BRIMAH’S BLOCKS: Brimah’s five blocked shots give him 38 for the season in just 15 games. He has 251 over his three years in Storrs.
SMU: Hosts East Carolina on Sunday.
UConn: Visits Cincinnati on Saturday.
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