PISCATAWAY, N.J. — SMU’s first appearance in the AP Top 25 in almost 30 years resulted in a 77-65 win over Rutgers on Friday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
No. 23 SMU (20-5, 9-4 American Athletic Conference) received 21 points from guard Nic Moore in winning its fourth game in a row and ninth in its last 10. The last time the Mustangs were ranked in the Top 25 was on March 12, 1985.
Rutgers (10-15, 4-8) was led by guard Myles Mack’s 17 points.
The Scarlet Knights cut the SMU lead to six points at 64-58 with 5:15 remaining but fell victim to a 7-0 run from the Mustangs that made it 71-50.
Rutgers closed to one point at 41-40 with 14:23 to play, but SMU forward Markus Kennedy started a 14-2 run with a layup and conventional three-point play that helped the Mustangs to a 52-42 cushion with 10:52 left. Moore drained three 3-pointers in the sequence.
The Mustangs have undergone a transformation under legendary coach Larry Brown. SMU went more than 10 years without a win over a ranked team before opening renovated Moody Coliseum by
defeating then-No. 17 Connecticut on Jan. 4.
Since then, the Mustangs have posted double-digit wins over Top 25 teams Memphis and Cincinnati, the latter a 76-55 decision on Feb. 8 for their first on-campus victory over a top-10 team since 1967.
“These are all learning experiences for us,” Brown said. “I thought we responded great. Last year, we were in Conference USA and we only played five guys. We played zone and we really didn’t have a bench.
“I knew we would be better this year. We had three really good transfers, but I didn’t know if our record would reflect that because we were going into a new conference.”
Brown compared the SMU makeover with one of the charter schools in the Big East Conference.
“Georgetown did it,” he said. “Great school. Great city. I don’t see why we couldn’t do it.”
Without an especially big frontcourt, SMU relied on the quickness and long-range shooting of Moore, a sophomore transfer from Illinois State. Moore nailed five of his nine 3-pointers, was 6 of 6 from the free throw line and had five assists.
“He’s their catalyst,” first-year Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s a bulldog. He dictates the tempo. He finds his people in the paint and he makes his 3’s.”
Moore’s backcourt teammate, Nick Russell, contributed 16 points.
The Mustangs broke a 21-21 tie with 7:48 to go in the first half by outscoring Rutgers 15-8 to end the half for a 36-29 lead.
SMU’s perimeter defense stifled the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers failed to knock down any of its six 3-point shots and connected on just 10 of 28 from the floor.
“I thought we had a terrific effort,” Jordan said. “We followed our game plan for the most part, but there was some breakdowns and missed assignments.”
Rutgers is 2-6 in its last eight games. Its next two games are against ranked teams in Louisville and Memphis. It closes conference play against UConn and Cincinnati, two schools that are also in the Top 25.
“I see improvement,” Jordan said of his team. “It’s going to take a little while to understand the system.”
The Scarlet Knights missed their last nine shots from the floor, five by forward Kadeem Jack, and failed to score a basket in the final 6:18 of the first half.
Jack responded with 10 points in the second half to finish with 17.
Center Cannen Cunningham scored all of his 10 points in the first half for SMU.