DALLAS (AP) Sterling Brown scored 20 points and No. 24 SMU beat Connecticut 80-54 on Thursday night in the final home game for seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, the only players with coach Larry Brown for all four of his seasons during an incredible turnaround for the Mustangs.
Moore had 16 points and four assists in his 99th career game for the Mustangs, while Kennedy had only four points but a career-high nine assists. Jordan Tolbert, another senior in his final SMU home game, had 14 points and seven rebounds.
SMU (25-4, 13-4 American Athletic Conference) remained tied with Temple for the conference lead. The Owls, who on Jan. 24 handed the Mustangs their first loss after an 18-0 start, beat Memphis earlier Thursday.
Sterling Gibbs had 20 points for UConn (20-10, 10-7), while Daniel Hamilton had 12.
While the Mustangs can still win or share their second consecutive AAC regular-season title, they are ineligible for any postseason play because of NCAA sanctions handed down in September.
Hamilton’s 3-pointer with 8:13 left in the first half tied the game at 16-all, but UConn had only one more field goal while SMU finished the half with a 22-4 run.
Kennedy made a tiebreaking tip-in with 7:46 left before Sterling Brown hit a 3-pointer and eventually a layup that made it 26-16. Moore also had a layup high off the glass in that spurt of 10 consecutive points for SMU in just over 3 1/2 minutes.
Hamilton ended the Huskies’ scoring drought when he made two free throws with 4 minutes left, but SMU then had a 10-2 run capped by Moore’s three-point play in the closing seconds. Moore made an off-balance shot when stumbling forward after being fouled, and added the free throw.
There was an appropriate stretch early in the game when Moore had assists on consecutive baskets. First came a nifty pass to Kennedy for a two-handed slam, and then one to Tolbert for another score.
Tolbert sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech. The only other senior player recognized was David Nelson, a former practice player who was put on the roster the second half of this season and appeared briefly in only four games, including a layup in the final minute Thursday.
Moore and Kennedy both had to sit out 2012-13, Brown’s first season, after transferring to SMU. Moore came from Illinois State with his head coach Tim Jankovich, who is Brown’s top assistant, and Kennedy arrived from Villanova.
SMU hadn’t been ranked in 29 years before breaking into the Top 25 in February 2014, late in Moore and Kennedy’s first season. While left out of the NCAA Tournament that season, the Mustangs made it to the NIT championship game.
The Mustangs won the AAC title last season, with Moore the league’s player of the year, and then advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. Their season ended in a loss to UCLA after a questionable goaltending call in their tournament opener.
If not for NCAA sanctions handed down in September, the Mustangs would be a sure bet to be in the NCAA Tournament field again this season. Instead, their season will be done after Sunday’s regular-season finale at Cincinnati.
Just before tip, Moore went to the sideline seats near midcourt to greet two presidents – former U.S. President George W. Bush and R. Gerald Turner, SMU’s president. The rest of the Mustangs starters followed him with some handshakes and hugs.
UConn: The Huskies lost for the third time in their last four games. … UConn beat SMU 68-62 at home earlier this season, but is 0-4 in the series when the games are in Dallas.
SMU: The Mustangs shot 52 percent (32 of 62) from the field. … SMU had a 42-12 scoring advantage in the paint, and 11-1 on second-chance points.
UConn hosts UCF on Sunday.
SMU is at Cincinnati on Sunday.