DALLAS — Sterling Brown had 26 points and 10 rebounds in his final home game for No. 14 SMU, and the Mustangs clinched the outright American Athletic Conference title with a 103-62 victory over Memphis on Saturday.
Brown, one of three seniors playing their Moody Coliseum finale, was part of his school-record 106th victory as the Mustangs (27-4, 17-1) won their second conference title in three seasons.
Brown had a long inbounds pass to Semi Ojeleye for a breakaway one-handed dunk and hit consecutive 3-pointers in an early 15-2 run that put SMU in control of the game.
Ojeleye, coming off a 9-of-9 shooting game Thursday, made his first three shots on the way to 19 points while finishing 5 of 6 with three 3-pointers. Ben Moore, another senior, had 16 points.
Keon Clergeot had 14 points, while Dedric Lawson had 13 and Jeremiah Martin 12 for Memphis (19-12, 9-9), which trailed by as many as 48 points in the second half.
SMU takes a 13-game winning streak into next week’s AAC Tournament in Hartford, Connecticut as the top seed, and then back to the NCAA Tournament after being banned from all postseason play last season.
The Mustangs celebrated with confetti and streamers after the finale at Moody, where they won all 18 games this season and have won 22 in a row.
The crowd included former President George W. Bush, a frequent attender, along with Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who led SMU’s impressive turnaround the past four seasons before unexpectedly leaving the job last summer when unable to come to terms on a new contract.
With two-time American Athletic Conference player of the year Nic Moore and AAC top sixth man Markus Kennedy, SMU won 25 games last season but couldn’t advance to the postseason again in their senior seasons because of NCAA penalties from a September 2015 ruling involving a case of academic fraud under Brown.
While the postseason ban was for only one year, the Mustangs are still short-handed because of scholarship reductions that extend past this season. They played several games this season with only six available scholarship players.
Jonathan Wilfong, a walk-on senior who started for only the second time in his 52 career games, had a nifty pass to Moore that broke the game’s only tie, which was 4-4. That was also the first of 10 consecutive SMU points in less than 2 1/2 minutes.
When Wilfong hit a jumper with just over 6 minutes left for his first points, the Mustangs led 87-44 and the crowd erupted.
Memphis: The Tigers were off to an 18-7 start in their first season under Tubby Smith, but have lost five of their last six games.
SMU: While the Mustangs put up a lot of points, they are one of the nation’s top defensive teams — allowing only 59 points a game. They have held 22 of their last 24 opponents to 66 points or less. … SMU shot 61 percent (34 of 56), including 14 of 28 on 3-pointers.
Memphis: Tigers wait until rest of AAC regular season games played Sunday to find out if they will be seeded fifth or better to avoid a first-round game in the tournament.
SMU: Quarterfinal game in the AAC tournament Friday against East Carolina or Temple.
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Shake Milton had 20 points and seven rebounds to lead No. 15 SMU over UConn 69-61 on Saturday.
The Mustangs (25-4, 15-1 American Athletic Conference) won their 11th straight and haven’t lost since Jan. 12 at Cincinnati. Semi Ojeleye had 16 points, Ben Moore added 15 and Sterling Brown had 11.
The Huskies (14-14, 9-7), who have dropped two straight after a four-game winning streak, were led by Kentan Facey’s 15 points. Freshman Christian Vital and Vance Jackson each added 14, while Rodney Purvis had 11.
The Mustangs rode the hot shooting of Milton, who made 6 of 7 from 3-point range, to lead 41-30 at halftime. SMU led by as many as 16 points, with Milton’s fifth 3-pointer giving it a 31-15 lead with 8:04 to play.
Milton scored just two points in the Mustangs’ previous win, a 76-66 decision over Houston on Feb. 18.
SMU shot 50 percent from the field and led by double digits for almost the entire final 13:28 of the half. Vital’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds left made it 39-30, but Moore closed the half with a dunk.
The Mustangs survived some foul trouble in the half, with Ojeleye and Brown sitting for extended periods with two fouls apiece.
UConn shot just 11 for 32 in the half, with the starting backcourt of Purvis and Jalen Adams a combined 3 for 16. Adams missed the final 2:58 of the half with a left ankle sprain and did not return.
Without Adams, UConn tried climbed within 57-52 with 9:20 to play, but the Mustangs answered with a 9-2 run to regain control.
SMU: The Mustangs and No. 15 Cincinnati are vying for the top seed in the AAC Tournament, but it will come down to the wire. The teams split in the regular season.
UConn: The Huskies are looking to lockup a top-five seed in the AAC Tournament, but could be in trouble if Adams is out for an extended period of time. Vital and Purvis are the only healthy guards left.
SMU finishes the regular season at home with Tulsa and Memphis.
Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.
The American is going to look quite different this season as the league lost a few familiar coaches and some very talented players. Most of the teams we’ve grown familiar with atop the standings are back in the title picture for 2016-17 as teams like Cincinnati, UConn, SMU and Houston have NCAA tournament aspirations, while many others are in rebuilding mode or trying to be more stable.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. The league has four new coaches: After helping SMU become a legitimate program, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown abruptly resigned in the middle of the July live evaluation period this summer, handing things over to former Illinois State coach and SMU associate head coach Tim Jankovich. While Jankovich was left with enough talent to make another run, Tubby Smith at Memphis, Johnny Dawkins at UCF and Mike Dunleavy at Tulane face rebuilding efforts. Smith has a habit of turning things around and should be able to help Memphis become nationally relevant again while Dawkins and first-time college coach Dunleavy have more to prove.
2. Cincinnati remains consistent: With six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, expectations are that Cincinnati makes it back this season. With senior Troy Caupain, junior Gary Clark and transfer Kyle Washington, the Bearcats have plenty of upperclass talent with experience. The question will be whether the Bearcats can make the second weekend of the tournament (or beyond) for the first time since 2012.
3. UConn is loaded with talent: Head coach Kevin Ollie lost quite a bit of firepower from last season, but he has plenty to be excited about. Senior guard Rodney Purvis has talented sophomore Jalen Adams and McDonald’s All-American Alterique Gilbert with him in the backcourt while Amida Brimah is back at center. The key for UConn’s season could be production at forward from players like VCU transfer Terry Larrier and freshman Vance Jackson.
4. Larry Brown didn’t lead the cupboard bare at SMU: Brown might have handed the keys to Tim Jankovich, but the Mustangs still have plenty of firepower. Double-figure scorers like Ben Moore, Shake Milton and Sterling Moore are all back while Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye and freshman center Harry Froling add more punch in the front court. The Mustangs have the talent to reach the tournament again and remain a consistent program for the future.
5. Houston has a chance to break through: While the league’s top three is Cincinnati, UConn and SMU, the Cougars also have a chance to make a NCAA tournament run if some newcomers can help. Junior guard Rob Gray and senior wing Damyean Dotson both return and sophomore guard Galen Robinson Jr. emerged as a starter last season. Junior college transfer and former Indiana forward Devin Davis might be the key to where the Cougars play after the season.
PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dedric Lawson, Memphis
After a monster freshman season in which he averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Lawson entered the 2016 NBA Draft. The combine in May was an eye-opening experience for Lawson as it showed he needed a lot of work to be a pro. As a sophomore, Lawson has even less help than last season and he should be regularly putting up double-doubles.
THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:
Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: One of the best senior floor leaders in the country, Caupain comes to play in big games.
Rodney Purvis, UConn: Purvis is coming off of his most consistent year shooting last season (38 percent 3PT) and played really well in the NCAA tournament.
Damyean Dotson, Houston: Dotson shot 36 percent from three-point range and averaged 6.8 rebounds per game as one of the conference’s most versatile wings last season.
Gary Clark, Cincinnati: The reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year will be a strong contender for Player of the Year if he improves his offensive production.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Jalen Adams, UConn
Shake Milton, SMU
Rob Gray, Houston
Jahmal McMurray, South Florida
Ben Moore, SMU
BREAKOUT STAR: UConn has a lot of options to choose from in its backcourt, but the Huskies are hoping for a big season from sophomore Jalen Adams. The 6-foot-3 guard has the makings of a high-level scoring guard who could be a nightmare to contain off the dribble. If Adams improves his perimeter jumper he might be a major weapon this season.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Orlando Antigua hasn’t had the turnaround he expected at South Florida as he’s 17-48 in two seasons with only seven conference wins. The Bulls also lost four starters from last year’s team and top recruit Troy Baxter opted to decommit on the eve of the school year.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The American might not have a lot of NCAA tournament-caliber teams this season, but the ones in the field are the type of teams that nobody wants to face.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching the UConn backcourt and the different combinations Kevin Ollie can use with all the talent he has. A perimeter duo of Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert would be a lot of fun to watch.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Cincinnati: The Bearcats have the league’s best returning duo in senior guard Troy Caupain and forward Gary Clark and N.C. State transfer Kyle Washington should help on the interior on both ends. Play from senior guard Kevin Johnson and sophomore Jacob Evans III could dictate whether this team can make the second weekend of the tournament.
2. UConn: This team is a bit of an unknown since so many new pieces will have to step up and contribute. If Jalen Adams or Alterique Gilbert play well and Terry Larrier adds frontcourt production, the Huskies will compete for the league crown.
3. SMU: Plenty of talent remains at SMU as this team has the wing talent to score and defend with the league’s best. If the frontcourt additions of Semi Ojeyele and Harry Froling come through, this team could be very tough.
4. Houston: Coming off of 22 wins and an NIT appearance, the Cougars have to replace guard Ronnie Johnson and productive forward Devonta Pollard. If Devin Davis and the other newcomers can help defend, Houston could be a surprise team.
5. Memphis: Dedric Lawson could be in for a big season and brother K.J. Lawson might see a jump in production as well. The Tigers need Coppin State grad transfer Christian Kessee needs to produce for an unproven backcourt.
6. Temple: The status of senior guard Josh Brown and his surgically-repaired Achilles could be the key for the Owls as they have some intriguing young talent. Freshmen Alani Moore, Quinton Rose and Damion Moore are talented.
7. UCF: Johnny Dawkins has a strong front court in A.J. Davis and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and the Knights get former all-rookie selection B.J. Taylor back from injury.
8. East Carolina: The trio of B.J. Tyson, Caleb White and Kentrell Barkley are talented enough to make this team rise up the standings. The key for the Pirates is consistency in conference play.
9. Tulsa: Coming off the NCAA tournament and 20 wins, Frank Haith has 10 new players on his roster. Rutgers transfer Junior Etou will be expected to help starting wing Pat Birt.
10. South Florida: The loss of four-star freshman Troy Baxter will hurt but sophomore Jahmal McMurray is an all-league candidate who can really score. Transfer Geno Thorpe (Penn State) and Troy Holston Jr. should help.
11. Tulane: New coach Mike Dunleavy has some talent in the form of Malik Morgan and Melvin Frazier but this team needs a lot more talent to compete with the league’s best.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
There may not be another conference in America with as much on the line from a bubble standpoint this week as the American Athletic Conference. With SMU on the sidelines as a result of NCAA penalties, the other ten members convene in Orlando with the top dogs all looking to sew up a bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning the automatic bid is the best way to do that, but with four teams harboring realistic hopes of earning an at-large bid some will likely have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
Temple managed to win the regular season title outright, but there’s still some work for Fran Dunphy’s team to do. The two-seed is Houston, whose non-conference slate likely puts them in a position where they need to win out in Orlando, and seeds three through five (Tulsa, Cincinnati and Connecticut) all find themselves on the bubble. That should make for an intense four days in Orlando, and only the winner will be able to breathe easy in the wait for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field.
The Owls managed to win their first outright regular season conference title since 2012, when they were still in the Atlantic 10. This year’s group has done it with defense, as in conference games they ranked third in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Offensively senior guard Quenton DeCosey’s led the way, with forward Obi Enechionyia being a tough matchup due to his ability to step outside at 6-foot-9 and emerging as one of the American’s most improved players. Add in contributors such as forward Jaylen Bond and point guard Josh Brown, and Temple has enough to win the tournament. Close games shouldn’t cause much concern either, as in conference games decided by five points or less they’re 7-2.
And if they lose?: Houston
The Cougars arrive in Orlando as one of the hottest teams in the American, as they’ve won nine of their last 11 games (6-1 in their last seven). Forwards Damyean Dotson and Devonta Pollard combined to average 28.3 points per game in American play, and on the perimeter Rob Gray Jr. is the team’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg overall) and the point guard tandem of Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson and freshman Galen Robinson Jr. has been a positive as well. Kelvin Sampson’s rebuilding job has gone well to this point, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they landed the automatic bid.
Tulsa: Tulsa’s backcourt is very good, with James Woodard, Shaq Harrison and Pat Birt Jr. being the leaders. A key for Tulsa will be finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, as they ranked ninth in the American in defensive rebounding percentage (67.7) in conference games.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are tough, and only UConn was better in league play when it comes to field goal percentage defense. With Troy Caupain running the point and Gary Clark in the front court, Mick Cronin has the pieces needed to make a run.
Connecticut: Kevin Ollie’s team led the American in field goal percentage defense, limiting teams to 38.4 percent shooting in conference games. But the offense has sputtered at times. If Daniel Hamilton looks to take over consistently, making plays for himself and others, this can be a dangerous team in Orlando.
Josh Pastner’s Tigers have the league’s top scoring duo in forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin, and there’s talent on the perimeter as well. But can they put it all together over the course of three days? That remains to be seen.
The Bubble Dwellers:
Temple: Opening with either East Carolina or USF won’t do much to bolster Temple’s argument for inclusion. But a loss to either would be damaging. Take care of business there and the Owls should be OK.
Houston: The Cougars likely need to win the automatic bid, thanks to the weakness of their non-conference schedule. They have wins over SMU and Temple on their résumé, but that may not be enough.
Tulsa: They face Memphis in the quarterfinals, and that’s a win Frank Haith’s team will need to get. They did pick up wins over SMU (in Dallas), Cincinnati and Temple last month, and there’s also the early season win over fellow bubble team Wichita State.
Cincinnati: Beat UConn in the quarterfinals Friday, which would be their third win over the Huskies this season. The Bearcats have wins over bubble teams George Washington and VCU to their credit, but there would be a lot less stress if they’d been able to close out Iowa State (81-79 loss) back on December 22.
Connecticut: Beat Cincinnati in the quarterfinals and that should sew things up for the Huskies. At the very least a win should get them another shot at a Temple team that swept the regular season series.
American Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU
Moore won the award last season and he’d be a good choice for the 2016 edition of the award as well. The senior point guard led the way for a team that was ranked for most of the season despite being ineligible for postseason play, averaging 15.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. A good case can be made for Temple’s Quenton DeCosey as well.
American Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple
Sure, this can be seen as giving the award to the man whose team was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches poll. But Dunphy deserves this honor just as much for the way the Owls played once out of non-conference play. Temple began play in the American with an overall record of 5-5, only to take a considerable leap forward in conference play. Led by Dunphy and seniors DeCosey and Jaylen Bond, Temple won the American outright with a conference record of 14-4.
Nic Moore, SMU (POY)
Quenton DeCosey, Temple: If Moore isn’t the choice for league POY then it’s probably DeCosey, who was the leading option on the American’s best team.
Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: Caupain averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 assists per game in conference play. He was also fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).
James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard led the Golden Hurricane with an average of 15.6 points per game, ranking sixth in the conference in scoring.
Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The conference’s best freshman, Lawson paired up with Shaq Goodwin to form the highest scoring tandem in the American. And to think, he was originally supposed to be in the 2016 freshman class.
Second Team All-AAC:
Devonta Pollard, Houston
Shaq Harrison, Tulsa
Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
Gary Clark, Cincinnati
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Defining moment of the season: Temple hands SMU its first loss of the season
CBT Prediction: Houston continues its recent run of solid play, winning three straight to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
No. 24 SMU beats UConn 80-54 on senior night for Nic Moore
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.