Back in rankings, No. 23 SMU falls flat at home vs. Cincinnati
Once Cincinnati settled down and got away from an early turnover-per-minute pace, everything turned out OK against No. 23 SMU.
So far, the Bearcats are the only American Athletic Conference team to beat coach Larry Brown's squad. And they have done it twice.
Jermaine Sanders scored 15 points, including one of two huge 3-pointers for Cincinnati as it started to pull away late in a 62-54 win Thursday night over a Mustangs team playing its first game since getting back into the Top 25.
"We shot ourselves in the foot by throwing the ball away so much. Once we got past that, then we were fine," associate head coach Larry Davis said. "It could have been a disaster. We could have been down 20 the way we were turning the ball over."
Cincinnati (16-6, 7-3 American Athletic) didn't miss a shot in the first 10 minutes of the game, but took only three shots while committing 10 turnovers in that span.
After being plagued by all those miscues and down only 25-20 at halftime, the Bearcats pulled out the game that featured nine lead changes and eight ties after that. They led for good after Octavius Ellis made two free throws to make it 45-44 with 7 1/2 minutes left, then Sanders and Shaq Thomas hit big 3s late.
"Players made plays in the second half," Davis said. "Guys jumped up and made shots, but again, we kept defending. I can't say enough about the kids' character and how they just kept fighting when they were turning it over, and it wasn't going right for them."
Sanders swished a 3-pointer from the right corner with 4:40 left to put Cincinnati up 53-46.
SMU (18-5, 9-2), which was up by eight points early, pulled to 55-52 after Sterling Brown had a putback of his own shot after he had rebounded a Cincinnati miss and drove the court only to miss a layup.
But with the shot clock running down after the Bearcats got the ball back, Thomas hit from the right wing.
Brown can only hope that his Mustangs have the same response to another loss to Cincinnati.
SMU has won 16 of its last 18 games. The only losses in that span are both against Cincinnati, including one on the road the first weekend of January before the eight-game winning streak that was snapped at Moody Coliseum.
"As a coaching staff, we've got to coach them better and have confidence that our kids are going to go out the next game and be better," Brown said. "That's what happened the last time we played Cincinnati. We've got to learn from this and move on."
The Mustangs play Saturday at AAC-leading Tulsa (17-5, 10-0), which has won 12 in a row.
Farad Cobb and Troy Caupain each added 14 points for the Bearcats, who shot 57 percent overall (21 of 37) and finished with 17 turnovers.
Cannen Cunningham led SMU with 14 points while Sterling Brown had 12.
SMU had as many made baskets (11) as Cincinnati had shots in the first half. With all the turnovers, the Bearcats managed only 11 shots, but made seven of them before halftime.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have held 26 consecutive opponents under 70 points, the nation's longest active streak. ... Ellis has made 22 consecutive free throws the previous five games, but missed his first attempt against SMU midway through the first half. He made the second.
SMU: Mustangs seniors Ryan Manuel and Cunningham have each played in 123 career games. That is only two short of the school record 125 set by Butch Moore from 1982-86. ... The Mustangs were up 15-8 after a 10-1 run in the first half capped by Sterling Brown's 3-pointers -- the first SMU make that wasn't a dunk or tip-in (two each) since his 3 for SMU's first basket of the game.
Cincinnati: Hosts South Florida on Saturday night.
SMU: At Tulsa on Saturday night.