DALLAS — Forward Markus Kennedy had 18 points and eight rebounds to power the No. 23 Southern Methodist Mustangs to a 70-55 win over the Central Florida Golden Knights at Moody Coliseum on Saturday.
Point guard Nic Moore also had 13 points, six assists and four steals to help set SMU up for a big final week of the regular season.
SMU hosts No. 7 Louisville on Wednesday, then travels to No. 21 Memphis on Saturday to close out its American Athletic Conference regular-season schedule. SMU is looking for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1993.
The Mustangs had little trouble dispatching UCF after Moore hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 45-27 lead in the second half. The second 3-pointer was from NBA range.
“Nic Moore made the difference,” UCF coach Donnie Jones said. Those two big 3’s there were huge, back-to-back. “Obviously Markus Kennedy and him are a mismatch for a lot of teams.”
UCF (11-16, 3-13) was held to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, becoming SMU’s 22nd opponent this season to shoot below 40 percent.
Guard Isaiah Sykes led the Knights with 18 points and forward Kasey Wilson added 11.
SMU (23-6, 12-4) is vastly improved from a year ago, when it finished 15-17. The biggest proof: Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown was not happy with a 15-point win.
“I didn’t like the way we played,” Brown said. “We win by 15, I have a lot of respect for Central Florida … but we didn’t play like a ranked team. We took bad shots. Defensively, we tried to turn it on and turn it off.”
SMU broke out to an 18-4 lead to start the game before UCF made its second field goal. The Knights missed nine of their first 10 shots from the floor before Sykes scored with 10:34 left in the first half.
SMU’s lead grew to 24-22 before UCF rallied to within four at 25-21 with four minutes to go in the half. UCF’s rally came after Moore and Kennedy both went to the bench with two fouls each.
“We gave up a lot of easy buckets,” SMU guard Nick Russell said. “They got into the paint easily. They got us in transition sometimes. But really we just did not have a lot of energy. We were real flat. Our huddles were real flat. And that’s something we can’t do.”
Russell led SMU’s scoring in the first half with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and finished with 15.
The Mustangs pushed their lead back to double digits at 34-23 by halftime thanks to a 9-2 run, highlighted by center Cannen Cunningham’s three-point play. Cunningham had three of SMU’s seven blocks in the first half.
Even with the slight surge, UCF ended the half shooting just 28.6 percent from the field (8 of 28) to SMU’s 58.3 percent (14 of 24).
SMU was coming off a five-day layoff since its last game, a 64-55 win at Connecticut that propelled the Mustangs back into the Top 25. Brown did not like the rust he saw.
“We’ve got to have a much better game in terms of execution,” Brown said. “We’ve got to play like we played in Connecticut, where every possession meant something on both ends. I don’t think that was the case today.”
NOTES: SMU is in third place in the American Conference behind Cincinnati and Louisville … SMU won its first home game as a ranked team since the then-No. 9 Mustangs beat Texas, 64-60, on Feb. 23, 1985. … Last week, SMU returned to the Top 25 for the second time this season. The Mustangs fell out of the Top 25 after one week following a 71-64 loss at Temple on Feb. 16. … SMU is now 15-0 at home this season, including 9-0 at newly-renovated Moody Coliseum. SMU played its first six home games at a suburban school district’s arena while work was finished on Moody. … Before Saturday’s double-digit loss, five of UCF’s last seven games had been decided by six points or fewer. Two of UCF’s three conference wins had come in its four previous games, including a 67-65 win at Rutgers on Wednesday. … SMU’s 23 wins ties for the fifth-most in program history.
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