DALLAS (AP) Ben Emelogu acknowledged that SMU players would have been lying if they said Cincinnati wasn’t on their minds.
The 25th-ranked Mustangs got a bit of a revenge, and in the process took a slight lead in the American Athletic Conference standings.
Emelogu hit two 3-pointers and made the tiebreaking free throw in the game-deciding 15-0 run for the Mustangs in a 60-51 win Sunday to snap a 15-game winning streak by No. 11 Cincinnati, which had also been responsible for the only loss by SMU in its previous 18 games.
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”We’ve been chasing for a long time, Cincinnati’s put a lot of pressure on us,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. ”Finally to get the opportunity to get them back here. … It does feel good to finally, finally be in this position.”
Finishing their first week as a ranked team this season, the Mustangs (22-4, 12-1 American) had their big spurt right after Cincinnati had scored 12 in a row in a 2 1/2-minue span soon after halftime to regain the lead.
The Bearcats (22-3, 11-1) made only three of their last 21 shots after that – and went without a field goal the final 4:11 of the game.
”Dug the hole, and then from that point on, played the best defense we’ve played all year,” Jankovich said.
After SMU had finished the first half with eight straight points to tie the game, and went ahead on Shake Milton’s 3-pointer, Kevin Johnson had a tying 3 to start the big spurt by Cincinnati. Johnson also had a steal for a breakaway two-handed slam before Kyle Washington’s basket to give the Bearcats their biggest lead of the game at 40-31.
But SMU got even on 3s by Emelogu, Semi Ojeleye and Milton and went ahead to stay on Emeolgu’s free throw with 11:47 left before he added another 3.
”Those momentum plays, I fed off my team, and the big shots went down,” Emelogu said. ”We went up and we started locking in on defense. We took over the game.”
Ojeleye, a transfer from Duke, had 18 points to lead SMU while Sterling Brown had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Milton and Emelogu each had 11 points.
Jacob Evans had 15 points for the Bearcats, while Johnson had 13 and Washington 11. Gary Clark had 12 rebounds, but the big man was only 2-of-7 shooting.
Cincinnati had 17 field goals overall, 11 being 3-pointers.
”It’s a make or miss game,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. ”They pack it in so tight and they’re so physical, especially in their own gym.”
Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats suffered their first loss since Dec. 10 at then-No. 16 Butler, they are well on their way to another NCAA Tournament. The American Athletic Conference title is still very much in play with three weeks left in the regular season.
SMU: It seems like many people forgot about SMU when Larry Brown unexpectedly decided last summer to leave the Mustangs. But the Mustangs have overcome a short bench and been impressive under Jankovich, who was Brown’s top assistant. SMU has held 19 consecutive opponents to 66 points or less. Like Cincinnati, the Mustangs should be playing in the NCAA Tournament next month.
DID WHAT THEY SAID
During a media timeout after Cincinnati’s run in the second half, the Mustangs huddled together with a message to each other. ”They made a run, so it was time to make ours,” Emelogu said. ”We said it’s time right now, and made our move. It was the right moment.”
The Mustangs are 15-0 at home this season and have won 19 in a row at Moody Coliseum, where the crowd Sunday included former President George W. Bush and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Jankovich is 22-0 as head coach at Moody, including nine games filling for Brown in the past.
Cincinnati: On the road again Wednesday to play at last-place USF (1-12 AAC), which the Bearcats beat by 41 at home on Jan. 29.
SMU: Stay home to play Tulane, which is 1-11 in AAC play.
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