DALLAS (AP) - Nic Moore remembers his redshirt season at SMU, when he would sit on the bench with Markus Kennedy and joke about counting the sparse home crowds.
There was a full house when Moore and Kennedy played their final home game for No. 24 SMU on Thursday night.
The senior duo that has been with coach Larry Brown for all four of his seasons during an incredible turnaround with the Mustangs won their Moody Coliseum finale, 80-54 over Connecticut. It was SMU’s 50th home win during their three seasons playing.
“Just to see the impact, the mark we’ve left, we’ve built,” Moore said, describing how he felt after his final home game. “Just to see people from the sideline to the top of the rafters all the way around standing and cheering for us - it was an emotional day.”
Moore had 16 points and four assists in his 99th career game for the Mustangs, while Kennedy had only four points but a career-high nine assists. Jordan Tolbert, another SMU senior in his final home game in his only season playing, had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Sterling Brown had 20 points to lead SMU (25-4, 13-4 American Athletic Conference), which remained tied with Temple for the conference lead. The Owls, who on Jan. 24 handed the Mustangs their first loss after an 18-0 start, beat Memphis earlier Thursday.
While the Mustangs can still win or share their second consecutive AAC regular-season title, they are ineligible for any postseason play because of NCAA sanctions handed down in September.
Despite all the emotions of the final home game, which included Larry Brown and that senior trio addressing the crowd of 7,303 afterward with confetti filling the air similar to a championship celebration, Kennedy said the Mustangs haven’t forgotten what’s at stake in their final game Sunday at Cincinnati.
Brown recalled standing on the court before his first home game against Loyola Marymount with top assistant coach Tim Jankovich in that 2012-13 season and wondering what they were doing at SMU.
“I can only imagine what those kids were thinking,” Larry Brown said. “It’s just been an incredible kind of ride, to think of what they’ve done, and what they’ve established, the level of play, the expectations, the way they’ve played. It’s been more than I think Tim and I could have ever imagined. You hope for something like this.”
Sterling Gibbs had 20 points for UConn (20-10, 10-7), which lost for the third time in four games. Daniel Hamilton had 12 points.
Hamilton’s 3-pointer with 8:13 left in the first half tied the game at 16-all, but UConn had only one more field goal while SMU finished the half on a 22-4 run.
“We have to get back to playing tough, playing aggressive, sharing the ball, not turning the ball over,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We didn’t play solid tonight. … I’m not even going to mention the (NCAA) tournament to them. I’m going to mention this moment.”
Moore and Kennedy both had to sit out 2012-13 after transferring. Moore came from Illinois State with Jankovich, and Kennedy arrived from Villanova.
SMU hadn’t been ranked in 29 years before breaking into the Top 25 in February 2014, late in Moore and Kennedy’s first season. While left out of the NCAA Tournament that season, the Mustangs made it to the NIT championship game.
The Mustangs won the AAC title last season, with Moore the league’s player of the year, and then advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. Their season ended in a loss to UCLA after a questionable goaltending call in their tournament opener.
Tolbert sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech. The only other senior recognized was David Nelson, a former practice player who was put on the roster the second half of this season and appeared briefly in only four games, including a layup in the final minute Thursday.
Kennedy made a tiebreaking tip-in with 7:46 left, starting the 22-4 run to end the first half. Moore had a layup high off the glass and capped the spurt with a three-point play, making an off-balance shot when stumbling forward after being fouled and adding the free throw.
Just before tip, Moore went to the sideline seats near midcourt to greet two presidents - former U.S. President George W. Bush and R. Gerald Turner, SMU’s president. The rest of the Mustangs starters followed him with some handshakes and hugs.
UConn: The Huskies beat SMU 68-62 at home earlier this season, but are 0-4 in the series when the games are in Dallas.
SMU: The Mustangs are 50-4 at home the last three seasons.
UConn hosts UCF on Sunday.
SMU is at Cincinnati on Sunday.
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