Consider the SMU Mustangs new members of the club. Conventional analysis has held that four teams will contend for the new American Athletic Conference championship: defending national champion Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Memphis. If anyone needed convincing that Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown has the SMU program on new ground, this afternoon's blowout of the nation's 22nd-ranked team should manage the trick. So let's consider fully half the AAC contenders for a league crown, to say nothing of an NCAA tournament berth.
Despite shooting 36 percent over the game's first 20 minutes, the Tigers entered halftime tied with SMU at 29. But a packed, if small, crowd in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum helped fuel a second-half onslaught by the home team that staggered Memphis and resulted in the Tigers' first road loss in American play. The Mustangs outscored the U of M 24-7 over the first seven minutes of the second half and extended the lead to 25 points (66-41) with 7:30 to play.
Five Mustangs scored in double figures with senior forward Markus Kennedy leading the way (21 points) and freshman guard Sterling Brown hitting six of nine shots from the field for 15 points. Nic Moore added 14 points and Nick Russell 11. The Mustangs — leading the AAC in field-goal percentage — shot 58 percent for the game and held the Tigers to 40 percent (and an ugly six-for-24 from three-point range). The Tigers committed as many turnovers (16) as they had assists. It was that ugly.
The only bright spots for Memphis were a pair of career milestones for senior guard Joe Jackson. With a season-high 22 points and six assists, Jackson surpassed 1,500 points and 500 assists for his career. In the long, proud history of University of Memphis basketball, only the great Elliot Perry achieved both totals. Geron Johnson added 18 points and Michael Dixon 13.
The victory keeps SMU undefeated at home and improves its record to 17-5 (6-3 in the AAC). The Tigers fall to 16-5 (also 6-3 in the AAC, now three losses behind first-place Cincinnati in the standings). Memphis returns to FedExForum Tuesday night to host Rutgers before Gonzaga visits next Saturday for a nationally televised showdown, the Tigers' final nonconference game of the season.