College Sports

February 8, 2014

SMU resurrects Moody Madness with rout of No. 7 Cincinnati

The Mustangs show they deserve Top 25 rank and NCAA consideration with upset of the Bearcats.

The last time most DFW sports fans witnessed Moody Madness with comparable intensity and decibel levels to Saturday night, SMU was not involved.

Instead, the phrase attached itself to a Dallas Mavericks’ playoff game from 1984, when the upstart NBA franchise sealed its first playoff series triumph in comeback fashion over Seattle. The game was moved to the Mustangs’ facility because the Mavs’ home venue, Reunion Arena, already was booked for a tennis event.

But during Saturday’s high-stakes, high-decibel, court-storming version of Moody Madness, SMU was very much the star of the show in a 76-55 rout of No. 7 Cincinnati.

The victory, SMU’s first over a Top 10 opponent since Dec. 3, 1987, should have major repercussions in efforts to return the Mustangs to the Top 25 rankings for the first time since the 1984-85 season. When Monday’s updated polls surface, SMU (19-5, 8-3 American Athletic Conference) deserves to be included after ending the Bearcats’ 15-game winning streak and making the Mustangs’ strongest statement to date that they are viable candidates to receive their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1993.

Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1) fell for the first time in league play and held only one lead — at 2-0. Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said his team “got beat in every facet of the game” by an SMU squad that shot 54.3 percent from the field and limited the Bearcats to a 35.4 conversion rate.

Cronin seconded all postgame SMU claims that the Mustangs deserve more national attention from pollsters and NCAA selection committee members. Such sentiment flowed from the Mustangs’ locker room like the flood of fans that rushed the court to celebrate the team’s signature triumph under second-year coach Larry Brown. The win also boosted SMU’s home record to 13-0 this season, including defeats of Top 25 foes Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut.

“At the beginning of the year, we believed in each other, but not a lot of other people did. Nobody expected us to be here,” said guard Nick Russell, who scored 15 points and was one of four Mustangs in double figures. “But we knew what we have. We’ve got a great coach and a great coaching staff. The sky’s the limit.”

SMU center Cannen Cunningham, a junior from Arlington Lamar who scored 11 points in 13 minutes off the bench, already is thinking beyond a berth in the Top 25 or simply playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“Our goal is to win a national championship, which might have sounded crazy a couple of months ago,” Cunningham said. “We’ve seen the bottom. We’re trying to get to the top. I think we can do it.”

Brown and SMU players credited the nonstop energy of the home crowd for helping them in the contest. Cunningham said he loved the impromptu celebration at the end.

“It was crazy. They rushed the floor, and everybody is my best friend now,” Cunningham said.

Brown, on the other hand, said he’d prefer to coach a program where fans “don’t storm the court when you beat a quality opponent because they expect to win.” But after last year’s 15-17 record, even Brown got into the act of interacting with fans as this one unfolded.

When Mustangs guard Keith Frazier buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from several feet behind the arc to give SMU a 38-24 halftime lead, the reaction was raucous enough that Brown made sure to exchange high-fives with fans on his way to the locker room.

When the Bearcats made an 8-0 run in the second half, cutting the Mustangs’ lead to 48-41 with 10:08 remaining, Russell started and finished a game-deciding 11-0 surge by the Mustangs.

Russell, a Kansas State transfer, got things going with a layup. After a 3-pointer by Nic Moore (14 points) brought the crowd to its feet, Russell capped the run with a breakaway dunk that put the Ponies on top, 59-41, and took the noise meter to its highest reading of the night with 8:13 to play.

SMU, the No. 47 team in the latest RPI rankings, coasted home thereafter against a team that scored a 69-66 victory over Louisville, the defending national champion, in its last road trip before heading to Moody.

But the Bearcats succumbed to Saturday’s version of Moody Madness. Even Brown acknowledged the team’s turnaround has happened faster than he envisioned.

“I never imagined it would be this good this soon,” Brown said. “It’s come together much quicker than I imagined. I’m thankful we’re here.”

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