SMU’s defense leads Mustangs to season sweep of No. 21 UConn

Another fun day at Gampel Pavilion today. SMU is one of the best defensive teams in the nation and the Mustangs proved that in a 64-55 victory over No. 21 UConn. The Huskies never got comfortable offensively and it never really felt like a home game for UConn.

This was a big win for the Mustangs, who are in the thick of the race for the top seed in the American Athletic Conference. SMU is undefeated at home in Moody Coliseum but Larry Brown’s team need a road win for its NCAA resume.

“It’s not about getting into the tournament, it’s about getting a good seed and making a run for it,” forward Markus Kennedy said. “We’ve got the Final Four in our city [Dallas] and it should be a home game for us.”

You can read my game story here or head to Yahoo! Sports to see my story on their site.

CBK Story
By Ken Davis, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: February 23, 2014 05:57:02 PM

SMU stops No. 21 UConn to sweep season series

STORRS, Conn. — Before traveling to Connecticut on Sunday, Southern Methodist coach Larry Brown said the thing his surging program needed most was a road win against “a quality team.”
Consider that done.
The Mustangs still have higher aspirations but they headed home after quieting a sellout crowd at Gampel Pavilion, holding No. 21 UConn to 29.6 percent shooting, and picking up a critical 64-55 American Athletic Conference victory and sweeping the season series with the Huskies.
Guards Nic Moore and Nick Russell each scored 15 points and forward Markus Kennedy added 13 as SMU (22-6, 11-4 AAC) stayed in the race for a high seed in the conference tournament.
“Not many teams beat quality teams on the road,” Brown said. “We needed to get over the hump because I think a lot of our kids maybe needed that. … It’s a learning process for us. But we beat a great team. We had to play our best, by far, on the defensive end to do this and I think we did.”
Guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier led UConn (21-6, 9-5) with 15 points each but combined to make just 8 of 28 shots and were 3-for-8 from 3-point range. Forward DeAndre Daniels, averaging 12.9 points, was held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting. The Huskies finished with 16 turnovers and just 16 made field goals.
SMU entered the game second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 37.1 percent.
“They’re a dead terrific defensive team,” said Boatright, who was 3-for-12 from the field but 7-for-11 from the free-throw line. “You can’t beat them off the first option. You’ve got to get to your second and third options. That’s what Coach (Kevin Ollie) kept preaching to us. We just had a bad game offensively. We didn’t execute.”
UConn went eight minutes without a field goal in one stretch of the second half and fell behind 44-34 on a layup by SMU guard Ryan Manuel with 12:22 to play. The Huskies rallied to pull within 54-49 on a jumper by Napier with 4:36 remaining but guard Sterling Brown responded with a 3-pointer that gave the Mustangs an eight-point lead with 3:15 left.
“That’s been our identity all season; we take real pride in shutting down teams’ best players,” Kennedy said. “This means everything. We took a tough loss at Temple but we bounced back against Houston and then today. We’ve just got to keep getting better. It’s not over. This is a good step in the right direction.”
SMU, which scored 24 points in the paint, shot 40.9 percent in the first half but managed a 27-25 halftime lead on two free throws by Kennedy with 22.2 seconds remaining.
Both teams struggled offensively at the start of the game, combining to miss the first six shots. The first basket came at the 15:46 mark when Kennedy hit a jumper to give SMU a 2-0 lead.
UConn, which shot 34.6 percent in the first half, didn’t score until forward Phil Nolan connected on a layup with 13:46 left. After forward Niels Giffey (11 points) hit a 3-pointer for UConn to cut the lead to 7-5, the two teams had combined for 12 missed shots and 15 turnovers in just over eight minutes.
“To beat a team like SMU, you can’t play in spurts,” Ollie said. “And I thought we played in spurts. In the second half, they kind of went on a run and put us back on our heels.
“We won’t shoot like this ever again, hopefully. And, hopefully, if we face them in the (AAC) tournament, we’ll be better prepared.”
NOTES: UConn honored the 15th anniversary of its 1999 national championship at halftime. Starters Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl, Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman were on hand. Moore and Freeman are now part of UConn’s coaching staff. Also in attendance were Richard Moore, Beau Archibald, Souleymane Wane, assistant coaches Tom Moore and Karl Hobbs, and Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun. The team and El-Amin were both added to the “UConn Huskies of Honor” on the Gampel Pavilion wall. “It’s an honor for me to be back in front of these great fans,” El-Amin said. … Hall of Famer Larry Brown, in his second season at SMU, is the only coach to win both a NCAA title (Kansas, 1988) and NBA championship (Detroit, 2004). Hamilton was a member of that Pistons team and is looking to get back in the NBA after being waived by the Bulls in July 2013. “I’ve been calling people about signing him,” Brown said. “He’s never been out of shape a day in his life. He’s one of the guys I love.” . . .There was a short delay four minutes into the game when condensation on the floor caused guard Shabazz Napier to slip while taking a shot. Time was taken to mop down the floor, which does not have ice under it but temperatures near 50 degrees after a stormy week in Connecticut could have been responsible. “It was a slick at the beginning,” UConn guard Ryan Boatright said. “Whatever they did, it helped.

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