Up by 17 against Houston with 10:57 to go, SMU fans (and maybe even some players) probably started thinking ahead to Saturday’s Valentine’s Day date with the defending NCAA champs, the UConn Huskies.
But Yogi Berra’s famous words, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” rang true Thursday night. Houston wasn’t going away without a fight. After a timeout, the Cougars stormed back with a 24-11 run that spanned six minutes. At the 3:57 mark, SMU’s lead was just four, and felt like it would shrink further.
However, the Mustangs would escape after Houston’s hot shooting expired. The Cougars made two of their last 10 field goal attempts, and Markus Kennedy’s two free throws with 13 seconds left iced the 75-69 win.
SMU built that 17-point lead on 53.7 percent shooting and never had a scoring drought greater than three minutes. But the charity stripe was not so charitable for American Athletic Conference’s top free throw shooting team. The Mustangs made 13 of 24 free throws and were 9-of-19 from the line until Kennedy made four in a row in the last 1:30.
Heart rate-raising second half aside, the win moved SMU into sole possession of first place in the AAC thanks to Tulsa’s loss in Connecticut. Kennedy’s 17 points led the Mustangs, and Nic Moore showed no signs of pain en route to his 15-point night. Ryan Manuel scored 10 playing in his hometown.
SMU netted its 20th win against five losses and moved to 11-2 in AAC play. Houston fell to 9-14 and 1-10 in conference. Jherrod Stiggers led Houston with 17 points and LeRon Barnes had 14 with 10 rebounds.
The Mustangs host Connecticut on Saturday, and ESPN’s College GameDay will be live at Moody Coliseum at 9 a.m. The game tips off at 8 p.m. and can be viewed on ESPN.