HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — SMU’s only worry about the NCAA Tournament this season is how high the Mustangs will be seeded. Temple must worry about getting in.
Markus Kennedy scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half to lead No. 20 SMU into the finals of the American Athletic Conference tournament with a 69-56 win over the Owls on Saturday.
Cannen Cunningham and Yanick Moreira each added 11 points for the Mustangs (26-6), who came into the tournament as the league’s regular-season champions.
SMU, which didn’t make the NCAA’s last year after losing its opening game in the AAC tournament.
“People could say we got snubbed, but at the end of the day we lost games we should not have lost,” said guard Sterling Brown, who finished with eight points. “This year we are trying to take advantage of every game. We wanted to dictate our own fate.”
SMU will face defending national champion Connecticut on Sunday. The Mustangs will be playing in their first conference tournament final since winning the Southwest Conference in 1988.
Quenton DeCosey had 14 points for Temple (23-10), which lost for the first time in five games and must wait to see if it has done enough to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.
“There’s great angst, great angst,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “We’re in an unknown area that we’re not real familiar with and we just kind of have to take a step back and see what this next 24 hours brings.”
SMU trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, and didn’t lead until Kennedy hit two free throws with 16:40 left in the game. That was part of an 18-4 run that turned a 34-31 deficit into a 49-38 lead and put the Mustangs in control.
The run was capped by a lob pass from Nic Moore to Ryan Manuel that brought the Mustang’s bench to its feet.
Temple couldn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“I stressed that they felt they could beat us,” said SMU coach Larry Brown. “We had to make them know that we didn’t feel exactly that way.”
The Mustangs outrebounded Temple 45-32, led by Kennedy who had nine and Moreira who chipped in with eight.
Jaylen Bond, the American Conference’s leading rebounder at 8.1 per game, showed no ill effects from turning an ankle in the first half of the Owls quarterfinal win over Memphis. But he spent most of this game in foul trouble. He picked up his fourth just three minutes into the second half and finished with four points and five rebounds.
“Jaylen is a great offensive rebounder and great overall player,” Kennedy said. “Without him on the floor it’s a little bit easier to get to my spots and get what I want to get.”
Jesse Morgan had 10 points for Temple, but nine of those came in the first half. The first of his two 3-pointers helped Temple take an early 9-2 lead.
A driving layup and free throw by Will Cummings pushed the lead to 10 at 17-7 with 11:17 left in the first half.
SMU missed its first six shots, but came back from a double-digit deficit to beat the Owls for the third time this season. They chipped away, tying the game at 26 on a foul shot by Cunningham, before an Obi Enechionia jumper gave Temple a two-point halftime lead.
Moore, the conference player of the year, hit just one of his six shots in the first half and finished with seven.
The two teams came in with the highest RPIs in the conference. SMU was ranked 14th and Temple was ranked 31.
The Owls had won 11 of its last 13 games, capped by an 80-75 win over Memphis in the quarterfinals Friday.
SMU: The Mustangs were playing in their first conference semifinal since 2003, when they were members of the Western Athletic Conference.
The Mustangs’ 74-68 win over East Carolina in the quarterfinals was their first win in a conference tournament since they beat Rice by two points in the first round of the 2006 Conference USA tourney.
TEMPLE: Coach Fran Dunphy earned his 500th career win in the quarterfinals, and is now the 24th active Division I head coach with that many wins. Brown’s quarterfinal win was his 244th in the NCAA, but he also has 1,198 NBA wins, 249 in the ABA and another 30 with USA Basketball.
Jesse Morgan finished with 10 points for Temple. He has scored in double figures in seven of the Owls last 10 games.
Temple: The Owls await a postseason bid
SMU: The Mustangs face UConn in the conference championship game on Sunday.
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