If SMU is to fare well during the initial American Athletic Conference tournament, it must handle any expected in-game adversity better than it did while concluding the regular season with two straight defeats.
The No. 25 Mustangs look to start anew against Houston in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup in Memphis.
In the second year under veteran coach Larry Brown, SMU (23-8) recorded its highest win total since the 1987-88 team won 28 games. The Mustangs finished 12-6 in the league, tied with No. 21 Connecticut and 19th-ranked Memphis for third. They earned the tournament’s No. 3 seed by having the best overall head-to-head record (3-1) between the three schools.
However, SMU must regroup after suffering consecutive losses for the first time this season to then-No. 11 Louisville, which it could face in Friday’s semifinal, and at Memphis by a combined 22 points.
"I’ve just got to get them to not worry about bad stuff happening, to fight through it," Brown said. "Mistakes happen, but you have to learn how to play through it."
The Mustangs turned the ball over 40 times in the last two games, resulting in 37 points for the Cardinals and Tigers.
After blowing a 14-point lead against Louisville, SMU led by four at halftime Saturday and by one with just over 14 minutes to play before the Tigers went on a 20-5 run that led to a 67-58 victory. The Mustangs shot 40.0 percent – its worst performance in nearly two months – and went to the free-throw line eight times while Memphis attempted 20 and won despite missing 11 of them.
"We’ve had a hard time when adversity hits to be able to deal with it," Brown said. "This is kind of typical of us. We’ve always kind of competed at a high level and then, all of a sudden, stuff happens. We just haven’t taken that next step to handle it. We kind of splinter a little bit."
Recipient of a first-round bye, SMU is making its first league tournament quarterfinal appearance since 2006 in Conference USA. The Mustangs will try for a third straight victory this season over Houston (16-15).
Averaging a team-leading 13.9 points, first-team all-AAC guard Nic Moore totaled 44 points in the two games with the Cougars this season. The sophomore transfer from Illinois State scored a career-high 28 in a 75-68 win at Houston on Jan. 26.
"It’s going to be a challenge for us," Houston coach James Dickey told the school’s official website.
The No. 6 seed Cougars finished 8-10 in conference play after their four-game winning streak ended with a 104-83 loss at Central Florida on Friday.
TaShawn Thomas averages team highs of 15.5 points and 8.0 rebounds, but he’s totaled 16 and 10, respectively, in the last two contests.
Jherrod Stiggers has averaged 15.7 points – 4.7 better than his season mark – and shot 50.8 percent in the last six contests. He had a team-high 16 points while Thomas added 15 in a 68-64 loss at SMU on Feb. 19.
Houston is 2-4 against ranked opponents this season with home wins over UConn and Memphis.