After defeating UConn 62-54 in the American Athletic Conference Tournament at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on Sunday, SMU earns the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“It means a lot,” SMU senior guard Ryan Manuel said. “[We] put in this hard work and we don’t want to leave it in anybody’s hands and we don’t want to depend on anybody, it’s up to us and the coaches.”
Sunday’s win was SMU head coach Larry Brown’s third conference tournament title and his first since 1986.
It is SMU’s first conference tournament championship since 1988 and its first trip to the big dance since 1993.
The Mustangs are a sixth seed in the South and face No.11 seeded UCLA in Louisville, KY on Thursday.
It will be will be the 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament for the Mustangs.
SMU jumped in front of UConn early and held onto the lead for 36:02.
The Huskies made a late run with Markus Kennedy and Ben Moore in foul trouble and got within five with about three minutes left to play. However, SMU attacked the rim, got into the bonus and made clutch free throws to hang on.
“To come out here and get a victory at UConn, it just speaks to what we’ve done this whole year,” Manuel said. [We kept going] through adversity and once again, we prevail.”
A major part of the Huskies competitiveness down the stretch was the large UConn friendly crowd. Because SMU defeated UConn twice last year, blemishing the Huskies national title run, there is a lot of animosity between the two programs. And the UConn fans…well they absolutely hate SMU.
“I don’t know if any team had to go on a home court to win a conference tournament.” Brown said. “I’m so proud of them. And the best thing is we don’t have to worry about anybody letting us know wether we are worthy of going [to the NCAA Tournament] or not..”
Kennedy led the way for SMU and finished with 15 points and six rebounds was named the American Athletic Conference Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Nic Moore and Yanick Moreira were named to the All-Conference team.
Rodney Purvis led the Huskies and finished with 29 points and three rebounds.
As a team, SMU shot 35 percent from the floor, out rebounded UConn 43-30 and won the paint battle 26-18.
The Mustangs had four players score in double figures. Kennedy with the 15, Nic Moore with 11, Ben Moore finished with 10, and Moreira added 11 .
SMU won both the AAC regular season and tournament titles. That is the second time in program history SMU won both.
“Sunday last year at this time was about as disappointing as it could get based on the body of work these kids did, but fortunately we’ve got another opportunity and didn’t have to get anybody to decide whether we are worthy or not. I’m proud of all these guys for that,” said Brown.