Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs have been much-improved this season, entering Sunday’s game at No. 21 UConn with 21 wins and a 10-4 record in American Athletic Conference play. Among those results are home victories over the Huskies, No. 11 Cincinnati and No. 22 Memphis, but something was missing from their resume: a quality win away from Moody Coliseum.
That changed on Sunday afternoon, as the Mustangs were able to keep Shabazz Napier under control for much of the afternoon on their way to a 64-55 win at Gampel Pavilion. The win is SMU’s first on the road against a ranked team since December 21, 2003, when they beat then-No. 17 Purdue 60-59 in West Lafayette. And the achievement couldn’t come at a better team for SMU, which is looking to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1993.
The story of the day was defense, with the Mustangs entering the game leading the American in field goal percentage defense and ranked third in both three-point percentage defense and adjusted defensive efficiency. Conference opponents managed to shoot just 38.6% from the field against SMU, with their length on the wings being one reason as to why. Against UConn that length was used to defend Napier, with guard Nick Russell getting the assignment for much of the afternoon as opposed to the smaller Nic Moore.
Napier finished the game with 15 points, scoring 12 in the second half, but he shot just 5-for-16 from the field and committed five turnovers while dishing out just two assists. Napier’s the first option any team hoping to neutralize UConn has to take away, and the Mustangs were able to do so. The defensive effort wasn’t limited to stopping Napier either, as SMU slowed down Ryan Boatright (3-for-12 FG) and held UConn to 29% shooting from the field and 6-for-21 from beyond the arc.
SMU shot 46% from the field and 6-for-12 from beyond the arc, but the Mustangs did have some issues with turnovers as they committed 15 on the afternoon. Moore (five assists), Russell (four assists) and Markus Kennedy (13 points, seven rebounds) all scored in double figures for SMU, and Sterling Brown (3.4 rpg) more than doubled his rebounding average by grabbing eight boards.
SMU still has two more opportunities to pick up quality wins before the conference tournament, as they’ll host No. 7 Louisville and visit No. 22 Memphis to end the regular season. But with their best road win to date coming at Wyoming the Mustangs really needed to pick up a quality result away from home. On Sunday Larry Brown’s team took care of business, moving closer to their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament as a result.