The SMU Men’s Basketball team fell to the UConn Huskies Thursday 68-62.
The loss against the Huskies makes SMU 21-4 on the season, and 3-4 since SMU’s 18-0 start to the season.
UConn entered the game looking for a statement win, hoping to increase their legitimacy in the eye’s of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
From the opening tip off to the final whistle, UConn controlled the tempo of the game. While the two teams posted nearly identical field goal percentages, and SMU held the Huskies to only 26.3 percent from three-point range, SMU allowed the Huskies to go to the free throw line 15 times, and UConn took advantage, converting on 86.7 percent of its free throws.
In a six-point game, allowing the opposition 13 uncontested points could easily be the difference between a win and loss.
Despite trading blows and keeping the score relatively even at the beginning of the first half, UConn slowly took the lead, forcing SMU to scrap for points to stay in the game.
After Shake Milton hit a jump shot with just over 13 minutes left in the first half, giving SMU a 9-7 lead, they allowed UConn to go on a 10-2 run. Five of those 10 points were the product of fouls and turnovers.
However, by tightening up its defense, committing fewer fouls and turnovers and letting Sterling Brown hit two clutch three pointers, SMU managed to tie the game 31-31 going into halftime, equalizing the momentum.
The second half had a similar narrative, as the Mustangs never managed a lead; however, it wasn’t for lack of opportunities.
After tying the game 42-42 with 15 minutes left to play, both Nic Moore and Marcus Kennedy missed jump shots and the Mustangs failed to come up with offensive rebounds.
Later, this time with eight minutes left, after closing the gap to 52-53, Jordan Tolbert committed a foul, which UConn capitalized on, making both free throws and increasing their lead to 55-52.
With under five minutes left to play, down 52-61, SMU began to find their rhythm. Shake Milton found his mark from three-point territory, which Jordan Tolbert then followed up with a slam dunk, making the score 57-64.
SMU put up the next three points, as Sterling Brown put up another three pointer, but the Mustangs missed multiple lay up opportunities before Brown found the net, letting over a minute slip off the clock.
Nic Moore quickly followed up Brown’s three-pointer, closing the score to just two points with just over a minute on the clock. After UConn scored on the next possession, and Marcus Kennedy failed to convert on his free throws, the Huskies were able to comfortably seal the victory at home.
Nic Moore served as the Mustangs’ leading scorer, putting up 14 points on 6/14 shooting. Shake Milton and Sterling Brown each added 11 points, including three three-pointers from both players, while Ben Moore contributed 13 points of his own. Markus Kennedy was the only individual who underperformed, who scored two points on 1/7 shooting and missed both free throws despite an average of over 9 points per game this season.
It’s unfair to put the loss solely on Kennedy. The team turned the ball over too often, failed to capitalize on opportunities and gave UConn too many trips to the free throw line. The Huskies knew the significance of the game in terms of building their March Madness resume, and showed up ready to play.
SMU deserves credit though. The team competed until the clock ran out. With just under a minute left in regulation, SMU had opportunities to tie the game at 64-64, and even when they fell behind 66-62, they continued to play with the same intensity, knowing they still had a slight chance to tie the game.
The Mustangs will return to Dallas for their next competition, when they host East Carolina Feb. 21. SMU will have the opportunity to take their revenge against UConn in their last home game of the season March 3.