SMU won’t be appearing in the postseason, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to play for in its final four games.
The 24th-ranked Mustangs are still in the hunt for their first back-to-back regular-season conference championships in nearly 50 years heading into Thursday night’s visit to Memphis.
SMU (22-4, 10-4 American Athletic Conference) is one-half game behind first-place Temple, but the Owls won the only meeting 89-80 on Jan. 24 to end the Mustangs’ program-record 18-0 start. SMU has alternated wins and losses in seven games since that defeat, though it inched closer to Temple after it beat East Carolina 74-63 on Sunday and the Owls lost 74-55 at Tulsa on Tuesday.
The Mustangs haven’t repeated as regular-season league champs since taking three straight from 1964-65 to 1966-67 while playing in the Southwest Conference. SMU, however, won’t play in the NCAA and conference tournaments because of sanctions.
“I can’t believe we’re going to be done in two weeks to be honest with you,” coach Larry Brown said. “I don’t know if I want to see it end for the seniors, so I’m just sitting here hopeful that the next four games are really ones that they will all remember and appreciate.”
Seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy led the way Sunday, as Moore had 22 points and seven assists and Kennedy scored a season-high 19 with nine rebounds. Moore is averaging 22.0 points and shooting 51.9 percent (14 of 27) from 3-point range over the last four games.
“I don’t understand how (Moore’s) not the top candidate for player of the year,” Kennedy said. “(Oklahoma guard) Buddy Hield’s playing good, but come on, man.”
Moore had 22 points as SMU beat Memphis 80-68 on Jan. 30 for its third straight win in the series. That began a stretch of five losses in seven games for the Tigers (15-12, 6-8), which has put pressure on coach Josh Pastner as he faces a second straight season of missing the NCAA Tournament.
Memphis beat UCF 73-56 on Feb. 17 to improve to 13-5 at home before falling 80-71 on Saturday at South Florida, which entered 0-6 on its own court in AAC play.
Dedric Lawson and Avery Woodson each scored 17 for the Tigers, who shot 36.5 percent and rank second-to-last with a 40.3 field-goal percentage in conference action. SMU, meanwhile, is shooting 48.2 percent in the AAC to lead the league.
These teams rank 1-2 in scoring in conference play, with Memphis at 75.3 points per game and SMU averaging 74.9. The Tigers, though, allow AAC opponents to average 75.5 points while the Mustangs hold them to 66.4.
Lawson has averaged 19.0 points and 11.6 rebounds in recording five straight double-doubles, tied for the 14th-longest streak in program history. He’s fourth in the nation among true freshman and first overall in the league with 13 double-doubles.
Lawson had 13 boards last month at SMU but shot 1 for 9 as Memphis lost its ninth straight against a ranked opponent since beating the No. 18 Mustangs 67-58 at home in March 2014.
Kennedy says he doesn’t see that happening again.
“We’re in the position we want to be in, it’s all on us,” he said. “I feel like the pressure is on every other team in our conference to not lose because we’re not losing no more.”