HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Semi Ojeleye scored a career-high 36 points and No. 12 SMU held off East Carolina 81-77 Friday in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
The conference’s player of the year hit 12 of his 19 shots and pulled down 12 rebounds, giving him his fifth double-double this season.
Sterling Brown added 16 points for SMU (28-4). The AAC’s regular-season champions have won 14 straight and 24 of their last 25 games.
Kentrell Barkley, who has been battling tendinitis in his left knee, had 22 of his 24 points in the second half to lead East Carolina, which rallied from a 22-point halftime deficit to tie the game. Caleb White had 17 points and Elijah Hughes added 15 for the Pirates (15-18).
Ojeleye had 17 points and nine rebounds in the first half, when the Mustangs led by as many as 24 points.
His dunk and free throw started a 17-5 run that gave them their first double-digit lead at 24-13.
SMU hit 12 of its first 17 shots and went into halftime with a seemingly comfortable 43-21 lead.
But the Pirates outscored SMU 56-38 in the second half.
They trailed 63-45 with 7 minutes left before making their run.
A 3-pointer by White, followed by a steal and layup from Elijah Hughes on the inbounds, cut it to 71-69 with just over 3 minutes left.
SMU pushed the lead back to eight, but the Pirates rallied again and Hughes’ 3-pointer tied the game at 77 with 57 seconds left.
But Ojeleye hit a layup on the other end and Barkley fumbled the ball out of bounds under the SMU basket on ECU’s next possession, allowing the Mustangs to hang on.
East Carolina: The Pirates, who upset Temple 80-69, in the opening round, had been blown out twice by SMU this season. They lost by 31 points in Greenville on New Year’s Eve and by 40 points in Dallas last month.
SMU: The Mustangs, who went 17-1 in winning the conference’s regular-season title, also cleaned up in the league’s postseason awards. Tim Jankovich was named coach of the year, Ojeleye was player and scholar-athlete of the year and Ben Emelogu was named the conference’s sixth man of the year. In their four losses this year, they have allowed at least 12 3-point baskets. ECU had 13 on Friday.
East Carolina’s season is over.
SMU faces either UCF or Memphis in Saturday’s semifinals.