DALLAS (AP) - Nic Moore’s 100th game for No. 24 SMU will be the last for the senior point guard and the Mustangs.
Even with 25 wins already and the chance to win their second consecutive American Athletic Conference regular-season title, the Mustangs will be done after Sunday’s trip to Cincinnati because of NCAA sanctions.
“That’s been out of my mind now since they told us the news, so I’m not about to start thinking about it right now,” Moore said. “The only thing I thinking about is this next game, doing what we need to do to win a regular-season title again, and then they can just talk about us, and say that they messed up.”
Instead of getting to play in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, Moore’s last dance with SMU (25-4, 13-4) will come a week before this season’s 68-team bracket is even revealed.
That means missing the best part of March will be the guard who has been such a significant part in what has been quite a turnaround so far for the Mustangs under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.
During Moore’s three seasons playing, SMU got back into the Top 25 for the first time in nearly three decades, reached an NIT championship game and last year played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. Moore was the AAC Player of the Year as a junior, and this season has a league-best 2.6 made 3-pointers per game while ranking second in the league in scoring (16.1 points), assists (5.3), free throw percentage (80 percent) and steals (1.4).
“His heart is so huge, his competitive spirit is so great, but to see him grow up as a human being, and mature and become a leader, that’s pretty neat to be around that,” Brown said.
SMU is having the kind of season that would usually garner a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Mustangs have known since late September, when sanctions were announced, that they would have only their 30 regular-season games.
The NCAA penalties came after an investigation that included a look into online course work for former guard Keith Frazier before his enrollment into SMU. Frazier averaged 11.9 points in 10 games this season as a junior before leaving the school, transferring to North Texas and leaving the Mustangs with only seven available scholarship players.
“To win 25 games, as challenged as we’ve been …. I hope that they will be rewarded for what they have accomplished,” said Brown, who is finishing his fourth season at SMU.
A win Sunday at Cincinnati (21-9, 11-6) guarantees SMU at least a share of the AAC title. Conference co-leader Temple (19-10, 13-4), which beat the Mustangs on Jan. 24 to end their school record 18-0 start, plays later Sunday at Tulane.
“The biggest game this year,” said Moore, who still finds it hard to fathom that it will be his last one with the Mustangs. “We’ve shown that we can compete at the highest level, compete with anybody in the country.”
SMU was still undefeated two months ago when it overcome a seven-point deficit in the final 3:40 against Cincinnati, including two 3-pointers by Moore in that final spurt for a 59-57 victory.
After Moore was introduced with the starters before his final home game Thursday night, he got a nice embrace from UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who like so much other coaches has long admired the 5-foot-9 guard.
“He gives them whatever they need every game,” said East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo, who like Brown played collegiately at North Carolina for Dean Smith and whose only four NBA games were during the 1989-90 season for the San Antonio Spurs coached by Brown.
“I haven’t seen a guy with an IQ like that,” Lebo said. “He’s got everything. He just doesn’t have size. That’s what makes him so special. That’s why he’s just one of those guys I just love to watch play. He’s got to be fun to coach. … I know how much (Brown) demands out of his point guard position.”
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