Sometimes in college basketball, comebacks happen so fast and so suddenly that it’s literally as if a storm blew through. In what are a few minutes but may feel like just seconds, a game seemingly in hand has slipped away.
SMU was the victim in such a scenario in its NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA in March; last night, the Mustangs returned the favor. Trailing by seven in the final minutes, the Mustangs finished the game on an 11-2 run to defeat Cincinnati 59-57 and improve to 14-0.
With less than four minutes to go, it looked like we would soon be down to one undefeated team and that Cincy would continue the recent mastery of its American Athletic Conference foe. The Bearcats-who beat SMU twice last year-had controlled much of the second half and held a 55-48 lead at the under-four TV timeout.
The host Mustangs didn’t particularly look up to the task of rallying, struggling with turnovers (17) against a tricky matchup zone while also dealing with Farad Cobb hitting six three-pointers on his way to 18 points. Keith Frazier was out after leaving the team for personal reasons, and Larry Brown’s shorthanded team went just seven deep, particularly short in the backcourt.
Nic Moore is one of the best point guards in the country, though, and he quickly brought his team back. Moore hit a pair of three-pointers, and his second capped an 8-0 run to give the Mustangs the lead back. The Bearcats responded, but then Jordan Tolbert tipped in a Moore miss with 29 seconds remaining to give SMU the lead for good.
Cincinnati played a terrific game for 36 minutes but suddenly went cold/took some ill-advised shots offensively late (take your pick). It’s a missed opportunity for the Bearcats to take down a team that is ridiculously ranked only 15th in the latest Associated Press poll (the Mustangs are ineligible for the coaches’ poll due to their NCAA probation, and that’s perfectly fine, that’s the poll’s choice).
The Mustangs are not a flawless team or necessarily a dominant one. This is their fourth win by five points or less, and there were previous ones against Yale, TCU and Colorado. What SMU is becoming is a team that finds a way to win, regardless of circumstances or obstacles, something any fan should be able to appreciate. Enjoy the ride.
- UCLA is proving more than capable of getting up for big games, and did so again with an 87-84 win over Arizona. Bryce Alford’s three just before the buzzer won it and saved the Bruins from what would’ve been a disastrous collapse after leading by 13 with 4 1/2 minutes left.
- Michigan lost twice on Thursday. The Wolverines were defeated 87-70 at Purdue as Caris LeVert was out due to injury again and the Boilermakers shot 55.6%, and the visitors also lost by wearing some hideous shorts (no doubt furnished by their shoe/apparel company sponsor) in which the waist looked to be perpetually falling down.
- Louisville received 21 points off the bench from Quentin Snyder to pick up a 77-72 road win against North Carolina State. The Cardinals’ reserves were a big difference, outscoring the Wolfpack bench 37-4.
- The nation’s second-longest home winning streak is over after Old Dominion went into Louisiana Tech and came out with a 56-53 win. Trey Freeman (21 points) and Aaron Bacote (17) combined for 38 of ODU’s 56 points, and the Monarchs-who narrowly missed an NCAA tourney at-large bid a year ago-have now won five straight after a slow start.
- Also in Conference USA, UAB shot 70%-yes, 70%-in its 104-82 win over Texas-San Antonio. The Blazers made 42 of 60 shots to easily withstand 36 points and a school-record 10 three-pointers by the Roadrunners’ J.R. Harris.
- Another home winning streak done: North Dakota State’s 31-game run at home is over after a 91-82 loss to Nebraska-Omaha. Devin Patterson scored 32 for the Mavericks, and along with IUPUI’s 74-67 win over South Dakota State, the Summit League is already cannibalizing each other after a terrific non-conference season.
- Saint Mary’s is now 14-1 after a 73-48 blowout at Loyola Marymount. The Gaels continue to look really, really good. Up next is a toughie at Pepperdine Saturday (the Waves held off Pacific 81-76 last night), with Saint Mary’s first meeting against Gonzaga looming in two weeks.
- Northeastern is the lone undefeated team left after three games in CAA play. Freshman Jeremy Miller (15 points, 11 rebounds) continues to develop, and the Huskies hammered Delaware 88-56, while College of Charleston dealt Hofstra its first conference loss 72-61.
- Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington will continue to bear watching all year in the Sun Belt after their strong non-conference performances, and both won again Thursday. UALR held preseason league favorite Louisiana-Lafayette to 26.5% shooting in the second half to win going away 77-57. UTA had a battle on the road at Appalachian State but toughed out a 71-67 win. And now the Mavericks will likely be penalized for it in power ratings that take into account margin of victory and feel Arlington should’ve won by more. And it shouldn’t be-the object on the road in conference play, no matter the opponent, is mere survival; style points are irrelevant.
- Cal State-Northridge will hold itself out of postseason play this season, a sanction imposed due to rule violations that were discovered in Nov. 2014. Without CSUN, the remaining eight Big West teams are guaranteed entry to the conference tourney, which was scheduled to only take the top eight of nine teams anyway. It’s been a tumultuous 1 1/2 years for the Matadors, who were expected to be an up-and-comer in the Big West last year but withheld players from a number of games last season due to these violations. Curious about CSUN’s release is that only cursory mention of the NCAA is made, and the matter is painted as being one more of team and university rules being broken than NCAA ones. The Los Angeles Times has covered this story but thus far has not been able to find out much more. Northridge is 5-10 this season and lost its conference opener Wednesday night against Long Beach State.
- The fallout continued Thursday from Utah’s call to cancel its longtime rivalry with BYU, including the Cougars’ athletic director Tom Holmoe taking to Twitter and later getting in some quality venting in a terrific interview on ESPNU’s broadcast of the Cougars’ 97-61 win over Santa Clara. BYU coach Dave Rose also spoke in an ESPN interview what is really the bottom line in this whole ordeal: the two teams had a contract for next year. Utah should’ve fulfilled its contract next year; then, if there were concerns, discuss them. Cutting out right before the Utes were to go to Provo appears to be self-serving and ducking a tough road game far more than it is about the integrity of the series.
Tonight’s Menu: Quiet Friday nights from now until March, though this one does not lack for action.
- One of the games of the year in the Horizon League takes place with Valparaiso at Oakland (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2). This one has almost everything you could want: quality (the top two teams in the league entering the season with the defending champions on the road at what is expected to be their top challenger), stars (Alec Peters for Valpo, Kahlil Felder for Oakland), contrast of styles (the defensive-minded Crusaders against the freewheeling Golden Grizzlies), and two teams who tested themselves with tough non-conference schedules. This should be a lot of fun.
- Also in the Horizon League, Illinois-Chicago is at Detroit (9 p.m., ESPNU). The Titans are starting to heat up, having won six of eight, and are one of just three Horizon teams without a conference loss so far.
- The Mid-American Conference also stages a pair of good games. Buffalo goes to Kent State (6:30 p.m., CBSSN) with the Golden Flashes seeking revenge after a flogging from the Bulls on national television last year. Meanwhile, Western Michigan is at Akron (7 p.m., ESPNU), where the Zips look to improve to 13-2.
- One Pac-12 game includes the battle of the Rockies between Utah and Colorado (9 p.m., FS1). The Utes had a rough start, losing twice in their Bay Area swing last weekend. Jakob Poeltl against Josh Scott is an outstanding individual matchup here.
- Finally, the lone other Division I game has Yale hosting tiny Division III Daniel Webster (N.H.).
Enjoy the second Friday of the new year and have a great weekend.