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Big plays from Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert keep No. 15 SMU undefeated

Larry Brown, Nic Moore

SMU coach Larry Brown celebrates with guard Nic Moore (11) the team’s 59-57 win over Cincinnati in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)


After playing three seasons at Texas Tech forward Jordan Tolbert made the decision to transfer to SMU, sitting out last season with the hope that his final year of eligibility would end in the NCAA tournament. Of course that won’t be the case for Tolbert or his fellow seniors, as NCAA sanctions handed down to the SMU program include a ban from postseason play.

But the Mustangs have continued to compete, and two big plays by Tolbert on both ends of the floor helped the nation’s 15th-ranked team remain undefeated with a 59-57 win over Cincinnati.

Tolbert’s tip-in of a Nic Moore missed jumper with 28 seconds remaining gave SMU a one-point lead, and his weak side block of a Troy Caupain layup attempt preserved that advantage. SMU managed to win despite losing Sterling Brown in the first half as he was ejected for leaving the bench, with his dismissal cutting the number of available scholarship players down to six.

But even with the lack of depth and an uncharacteristically high turnover count (17), the Mustangs found a way to remain close and then overtake the Bearcats.

SMU is one of the nation’s top teams in both field goal percentage and assists, and against Cincinnati they shot 51 percent from the field and assisted on 68.2 percent of their made field goals. Moore sets the tone at the point, with his ability to get the ball to the right player in the right spot matching his ability to knock down big shots. SMU outscored Cincinnati 11-2 over the final 3:09, with Moore’s two three-pointers on consecutive possessions being especially pivotal.

Moore’s the man who will have the ball in his hands in key spots, and with teammates willing to do their part to find the “right shot” SMU is a difficult matchup for opposing defenses at any point in the game.

SMU clearly wasn’t at their best, and Brown’s ejection serves as a reminder that this group doesn’t have a large margin to work with when it comes to either foul trouble or injuries. But even with the lack of depth and the high turnover count, Larry Brown’s team found a way to win.