No. 11 Louisville hands No. 18 SMU first home loss of season

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From the moment No. 18 SMU took the floor Wednesday night, Moody Madness was blazing throughout the Mustangs’ remodeled arena.

With a 22-point second half, Louisville senior guard Russ Smith quelled the rowdy atmosphere and shut down Moody Coliseum for the regular season with an 84-71 Cardinals win, handing SMU its first home loss of the season.

After scoring just four points in the first half, Smith went a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range in the second half, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Smith tied his career best for 3-pointers.

“Russ Smith was phenomenal,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “Rick [Pitino] did a great job to put him in a position to get shots, but I thought some of his shots were pretty well defended.”

SMU (27-7, 12-5 American Athletic Conference) began senior night with plenty of emotion in front of SMU’s seventh sellout of the season, the most since the 1984-85 season. The Mustangs claimed a 14-point lead with seven minutes left in the first half.

From the seven-minute mark on, SMU put up just five field-goal attempts, hitting one, and was 4 of 5 from the free-throw line.

During that span, No. 11 Louisville (25-5, 14-3 AAC) went on a 12-2 run to eventually take a 32-30 lead at the half.

SMU sophomore point guard Nic Moore got in foul trouble early, leaving SMU without enough viable ball handlers to navigate Louisville’s aggressive full-court press. SMU would turn the ball over 23 times in the game thanks to the defensive pressure.

“We didn’t handle the press,” Brown said. “We didn’t handle the intensity at all. This is about the eighth or ninth time we’ve had some adversity and we haven’t always been able to handle that the way great programs do. That’s my responsibility.”

When Moore was in the game, he was battling an injured ankle, which Brown said was a serious concern before the game.

“It was bad,” Brown said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people wouldn’t have played tonight. I don’t want to take anything away from Louisville and what they did, but he was hurting.”

Cardinals guard Chris Jones began the second-half parade of 3s, hitting one from deep, then stealing the inbound pass and making a layup while drawing a foul. Louisville added insult to injury by forcing a 5-second violation on the next SMU inbounds play.

SMU pulled within four with 6:08 left on the clock, bringing the crowd back into the game and onto their feet, but never could fully shift momentum back in their favor, as Smith would drain another 3.

Ten of Smith’s points came after that last SMU charge, including two baskets from behind the arc.

SMU senior guard Nick Russell, a former Arlington Grace Prep standout, led the Mustangs in scoring with 18 points, followed by sophomore forward Markus Kennedy with 14 and freshman guard Sterling Brown with 10.

Louisville finished with four scorers in double figures and two over 20 points, Smith followed by Jones with 21.

Brown has brought winning to the Hilltop as SMU spent its second straight week in the Top 25, but he left Wednesday night’s game more concerned about how to make his winning program a championship program as postseason play approaches.

“We don’t have that look in our eye,” Brown said. “We don’t understand that everything doesn’t always go perfect. You have to be man enough to fight through it and be supportive of one another and it’s amazing what you can do.”

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