Last Night's Gutsy Win Over Cincy Leaves SMU As 1 of 2 Unbeatens Left In The Country.
After their thrilling 59-57 win over conference foe Cincinnati last night, all seven of the SMU Mustangs' scholarship players attended the post-game press conference instead of the usual two or three typically made available. It was an impressive show of solidarity and a demonstration of the brotherhood that this embattled team has embraced.
These were the seven players who took to the court in Thursday night's tightly contested match against the Bearcats at Moody Coliseum — although, really, it was closer to six, as junior guard Sterling Brown was ejected from the game just three minutes in for leaving the bench area during a scuffle on the court after several players dove for a loose ball.
But even that move from Brown was a telling sign of this group's unity. As the team's done all season, the Mustangs battled through the man-down adversity and toppled the Bearcats, a team that swept the Mustangs in their two conference games last year and that has generally been a thorn in SMU's side since it joined the American Athletic Conference. So it's not only remarkable that this team was able to walk away with a close win over a good team. That they did so with resiliency and confidence is also admirable. As senior forward Markus Kennedy noted in the press conference, this team's motto all season long has been “Next man up.”
That much rang true earlier in the year when junior guard Ben Emelogu went down with a season ending injury. It rang true, too, when freshman guard Sedrick Barefield announced that he was transferring out of the program, and when junior forward Semi Ojeleye announced that he would sit out this season to maintain two full years of eligibility. Most recently, it rang true as impact player Keith Frazier announced that he was leaving the team for personal reasons.
All season long, head coach Larry Brown and associate head coach Tim Jankovich have watched on as their team's roster has been whittled down to its current depth of just seven scholarship players. Remarkably, though, this team still hasn't lost a game — something that's given these players all the confidence in the world and an added bonus to the chip on their shoulder already in place as this team plays through this lost season in which it has been banned from postseason play.
Currently, the Mustangs stand as the No. 15-ranked team in the country. But with last night's win, which keeps SMU going as one of just two undefeated teams in college basketball along with the South Carolina Gamecocks, that ranking is expected to rise as high as a Top 10 ranking.
Yes, once again the eyes of the college basketball world are on The Hilltop — so much so that, again, as Kennedy was oozing with confidence in the press conference, he recognized that the Mustangs are not only getting every team's best shot but that beating SMU could stand as an important NCAA Tournament resume boost for those opposing teams.
It’s hard to imagine this versatile bunch losing anytime soon, though. The six-man rotation on display last night flashed some real the flexibility as 6'10″ forward Ben Moore spent 33 minutes playing and guarding the opposing three instead of his normal four. Point guards Shake Milton and Nic Moore, meanwhile, played all but one minute of the game combined. After the game, Nic Moore joked that, if need be, he's willing to play the five if it comes down to it. He and his teammates were also quick to joke that neither conditioning nor fatigue in a 40-minute game is much of an issue given the stresses of normal Larry Brown-helmed practices.
Last night's win was certainly a team effort. But their were some standouts. Even with all those minutes played, Nic Moore was still able to deliver two crucial three-pointers during the team's 11-2 run in the last two minutes of the game. And, as has been the case all season long, senior forward Jordan Tolbert came through with some of the biggest plays of the game when he tipped in a missed shot to give the Mustangs their game-winning basket and then blocked what would've been a game-tying basket on the other end of the court with 18 seconds left on the clock, which the Mustangs were then able to run out.
For a guy who's rarely at a loss for words and has been coaching for 50 years, Larry Brown simply described this win over Cincinnati as “unbelievable” during his own press address after the game.
But such simply appears increasingly par for course of this year's Mustangs, which will have to regroup and get ready for UCF's best shot on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Moody Coliseum.
SMU Mustangs forward Ben Moore (00) drives to the basket against Cincinnati Bearcats defenders at Moody Coliseum. Moore led the team with 15 points and five blocks.
SMU Mustangs forward Markus Kennedy (5) laughs after learning teammate guard Sterling Brown was ejected from the game early in the first half against the Cincinnati Bearcats. SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) scans the court.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) dives to the ground for a loose ball against Cincinnati Bearcats center Coreontae DeBerry (22).
SMU Mustangs guard Shake Milton (1) drives the ball up the court against Cincinnati Bearcats guard Farad Cobb (21) in the first half of an NCAA basketball game. Milton, a true freshman, played all 40 minutes of the game.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) calls out an offensive set to his teammates.
SMU Mustangs forward Markus Kennedy (5) moves toward the baseline against an Cincinnati Bearcats defender.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) brings the ball up the court. Moore played 39 minutes and contributed 14 points in a thrilling win against the Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday night.
SMU Mustangs forward Jordan Tolbert (23) drives to the basket against a Cincinnati Bearcats defender in the paint. Tolbert scored 11 points and recorded three blocks in the win over Cincinnati.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) only rested for one minute in the contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday night as the team played with only six players for the majority of the game.
SMU Mustangs forward Ben Moore (0) moves past a Cincinnati Bearcats defender on the baseline. Moore was a perfect five for five from the floor scoring 15 points and recording five blocks in the game.
SMU Mustangs forward Jordan Tolbert (23) moves toward the basket against Cincinnati Bearcats forward Quadri Moore (0) in the second of an NCAA basketball game.
SMU Mustangs guard Jarrey Foster (10) is challenged by two Cincinnati Bearcats defenders at the basket. The true freshman played 21 minutes and scored six points as part of the team's six man rotation.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) and forward Ben Moore (00) attempt layups in the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
SMU Mustangs forward Markus Kennedy (5) attempts a shot in the face of Cincinnati Bearcats forward Quadri Moore (0) in the second half.
SMU Mustangs forward Ben Moore (00) heads toward the sideline pumped after forcing the Cincinnati Bearcats to call a timeout in a close game.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) attempts to shake Cincinnati Bearcats guard Kevin Johnson (25) for a quick basket.
SMU Mustangs forward Jordan Tolbert blocks a potential game-tying shot near the end of regulation to seal a 59-57 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday night.
SMU Mustangs guard Nic Moore (11) joins the ESPN broadcast for a post-game interview and is joined by his teammates.
During the post game press conference the entire SMU Mustangs seven man rotation on the night answered questions by the media in a move of solidarity.