Markus Kennedy believes SMU is the top team in the American Athletic Conference, but to make it official the junior forward and his teammates must beat Tulsa at home for the first time in a decade.
With the league title on the line, the No. 22 Mustangs try to snap an eight-game home skid to the Golden Hurricane on Sunday.
Moments after SMU’s five-game winning streak ended with an 81-73 loss at Connecticut last Sunday, Kennedy didn’t refrain from boasting about his team.
“We still know we’re the best team in this league,” he said after recording team highs of 18 points and nine rebounds. ”We know we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
The Mustangs (23-6, 14-3) have a chance to confirm the first part of Kennedy’s statement, at least for the regular season, after moving back into a first-place tie following Tulsa’s 56-47 home defeat to Cincinnati on Wednesday.
“We know it’s going to be a tall task but we want to embrace this opportunity,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “We’re playing a team that’s very good.”
While the Golden Hurricane (21-8, 14-3) have been the league’s biggest surprise in their first season after sharing the Conference USA regular-season title in 2013-14, SMU is seeking its first such crown since winning the Southwest Conference in 1992-93.
To achieve that, the Mustangs must beat Tulsa at home for the first time since an 81-74 overtime victory March 3, 2005. The former Conference USA members haven’t met at SMU since Tulsa won 48-47 in January 2013.
SMU is 15-2 at home and has allowed an average of 56.5 points while winning seven of the eight AAC games there.
The Mustangs won their fourth straight at Tulsa, 68-57 on Feb. 7, to end the Golden Hurricane’s 12-game winning streak. Nic Moore scored 23 and Cannen Cunningham added a season-high 16 as SMU used a 15-0 second-half run to break things open.
Averaging team highs of 14.4 points and 5.3 assists, Moore went 7 of 12 from the field and dished out seven assists in that contest.
“When you have a guy like that your offense is going to flow better,” said Haith, whose team shot a season-low 28.3 percent, was outscored 32-14 in the paint and allowed 24 points off 12 turnovers in the first meeting.
SMU leads the AAC with a 38.3 opponent field-goal percentage but allowed the Huskies to drain 53.2 percent of their shots – the second-best effort against the Mustangs this season. SMU is 0-5 when opponents shoot 45.0 percent or better.
Tulsa shot at least 50.0 percent in three of four before hitting 34.0 percent and scoring its second-fewest points of the season Wednesday. Guards James Woodard (14.4 points per game) and Shaquille Harrison (13.4 ppg) combined for 18 points on 7-of-28 shooting.
Woodard is averaging 6.3 points while going 9 of 30 from the floor in the last four road contests. Harrison has scored six or fewer in three of his last four games.
Cunningham has averaged 15.0 points and recorded nine blocks but also committed nine turnovers in his last three games against the Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa, needing a signature win to improve its NCAA Tournament resume, has lost 27 straight against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 16 Dayton in the first round of the 2003 NCAAs.