SMU’s streak ends as schedule begins to get tougher

SMU 54 CINCINNATI 62

UNIVERSITY PARK – A lot more may have been lost Thursday night besides just the SMU Mustangs’ eight-game winning streak. The loss to Cincinnati at Moody Coliseum will likely cost them their No. 23 ranking. What’s more, it was not the way Larry Brown’s crew wanted to start the final stretch that is a gauntlet to say the least.

What made it harder to take is how well SMU played early in the game, particularly in forcing turnovers. The Mustangs got the Bearcats to cough it up 10 times in the first 9 1/2 minutes of the game, which helped them limit Cincinnati to only seven field goals in the first half.

But a poor shooting first half (41%) meant they only had a 30-25 lead at halftime. The shooting didn’t get better in the second half (32%), and the Bearcats took better care of the ball while continuing to shoot well (57% for the game).

Granted, Cincinnati is still the only team to beat SMU in the American Athletic Conference, but it’s not going to get any easier. Of the Mustangs’ remaining seven games, they include two against conference leader Tulsa, including their next game on the road, two against defending national champion UConn and one in Memphis.

Last year, SMU did surprisingly well against the AAC’s elite, winning four games against Cincinnati, Memphis and UConn. But that wasn’t enough to get them into the NCAAs, and now, with the Mustangs going 0-2 against Cincinnati, they may not even have that mark on their record. That may very well require them to go deep in the AAC Tournament come March and even win it all, especially since SMU came into this contest as the only AAC team ranked in the top 25 and is now at risk of losing that next week.

If winning the AAC Tournament is going to be what it takes, they definitely don’t want anything to do with the Bearcats – a team that just seems to find a way to get good shots against the conference’s best field goal defense. Discounting the first half of the game in Cincinnati on Jan. 3, the Bearcats shot 57 percent against SMU this year.

It can all be erased if the Mustangs can go into Tulsa on Saturday and start up a new winning streak. But with the conference now being as string as it was in 2014, they just may need another winning streak that carries all the way into Hartford in order to make The Dance.

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