Through 20 minutes it looked like No. 12 Louisville was going to cruise to a double-digit win over SMU.
In the second half the Mustangs, who trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, fought back and cut into the deficit, keeping it at single-digits for the majority of the half. SMU kept it close until the game’s final moments when Montrezl Harrell put his stamp on the game game with an uncontested dunk before running back on defense — swatting a shot, then drawing a charge — to help the Cardinals pull out a 71-63 win over the Mustangs on Sunday afternoon.
SMU put forth a valiant effort in the second half, though the Ponies struggled to string together the necessary stops to cut it to a one-possession game. Luke Hancock scored 19 of his career-high 23 points in the second half, including 4-of-9 from behind the arc. All four of his 3-pointers came in the second half, many of them during important possessions for Louisville. The SMU defense continued to leave him enough space (or in some cases wide-open) for threes.
Russ Smith matched Hancock with a team-high 23 points along with seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. He helped force 10 of SMU’s 16 turnovers in the first half. The Louisville defense was much more aggressive in the first half, leading to transition buckets and a comfortable lead heading into the break.
SMU entered the game fresh off a win over No. 17 UConn — the first time the program had defeated a ranked opponent in a decade — while Louisville was looking to bounce back from a home loss to Memphis on Thursday. Sophomore guard Nic Moore was a big reason why the Mustangs upset the Huskies, but on Sunday afternoon he played limited in the first half after picking up two fouls, and ended the day 2-of-8 from the field for five points, five boards and four assists.
Moore looked to be out of sorts whether it was the Louisville defense or even an injury or illness. Moving forward, SMU — a team that could be on the bubble come Selection Sunday — will need more out of the transfer guard.
These two teams meet again on Mar. 5 at SMU.