UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — SMU snapped No. 7 Cincinnati’s 15-game winning streak and handed the Bearcats their first conference loss, 76-55, on Saturday.
SMU fans stormed the court to celebrate the Mustangs’ first on-campus win over a Top 10 team since SMU beat No. 3 Indiana in 1967.
“It was crazy, man,” SMU center Cannen Cunningham said. “They rushed the floor at the end. Everybody’s my best friend now. It was great.”
SMU (19-5, 8-3 American Athletic Conference) had four players score in double figures, but it was the defense that fueled the upset. Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1) was held to 35.4 percent shooting, including 33.3 percent (9 of 27) in the second half.
Cincinnati came into the game tied for the nation’s fifth-longest active winning streak but saw it end as SMU controlled the action almost from the start.
SMU’s Nick Russell and Ben Moore scored 15 points apiece, while point guard Nic Moore added 14 and Cunningham 11.
Cunningham’s contribution off the bench was critical as starting forward Markus Kennedy, averaging 12.2 points and seven rebounds, played just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
Kennedy scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds a week earlier in an 87-72 win over Memphis, but he was held to four points and three boards Saturday.
“Cannen won the game,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “He gave us a chance to stay in the game with Markus on the bench, and Markus has been a huge part of our team. That was a key.”
Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick led all scorers with 22 points but struggled from the field on 5-of-18 shooting. Kilpatrick leads the conference with a 19.7 scoring average.
“Give SMU credit. They didn’t let us do what we wanted on offense,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We were on our heels all night. That was because of the way they played.”
SMU’s program is in the second year of its resurrection under Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who has the Mustangs banging on the door of the Top 25. The last time SMU was ranked was at the end of the 1985 season.
“Our goal is to win a national championship this year,” Cunningham said. “Which might have sounded crazy a couple of months ago but I think people are really starting to believe that.”
SMU saw its momentum lag only briefly in the second half. Cincinnati used that opportunity to go on an 8-0 run to pull within 48-41 with 10:08 to play.
SMU quickly regained its energy and scored the next 11 points, ending with a breakaway dunk by Russell for a 59-41 lead with 8:12 left.
The dunk had the sellout crowd of 7,278 roaring at its loudest. The sellout was the fourth this season at newly renovated Moody Coliseum, where the Mustangs are 7-0 since returning to their on-campus home Jan. 4.
“I thought we played as hard as they did,” Brown said. “That’s all we talked about doing was matching their energy. I thought we did a great job of that.”
SMU, 15-17 last season, has beaten AAC heavyweights Connecticut, Memphis and now Cincinnati in Moody this season and is 13-0 at home.
“I’m sure nobody expected us to be here, but we knew what we had,” Russell said. “We have a great coach, a great coaching staff. The sky’s the limit.”
SMU took a 38-24 lead into halftime off 56 percent shooting, while limiting Cincinnati to 38.1 percent.
Freshman Keith Frazier hit a deep 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to give SMU its largest lead to that point.
SMU led most of the first half and stretched its lead to double digits, 22-12, for the first time on Crandall Head’s layup with 6:14 to play.
Cunningham came off the bench to lead SMU with 11 points in the first half while Kennedy sat out all but six minutes after picking up two fouls.
Cincinnati was coming off a 63-58 win over Connecticut on Thursday that saw the Bearcats rally behind Kilpatrick, who had 17 of his 26 points in the second half.
On Saturday, Kilpatrick scored 13 in the first half but was just 3-of-10
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