The UConn men's basketball team (20-14) fell to SMU in the American Athletic Finals, 62-52, on Sunday despite a career-high 29 points from redshirt sophomore guard Rodney Purvis (Raleigh, N.C.).
Markus Kennedy scored 15 points for the Mustangs, who held off a late Connecticut rally. The defending national champion Huskies fell a game short of winning four times in four days and earning a trip back to the NCAA Tournament.
Yanick Moreira and Nic Moore added 11 points each for the Mustangs (27-6), who also won the league's regular-season title.
UConn Senior guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.), who had been averaging 17 points in the tournament, finished with seven and fouled out with 45 seconds left. He shot 1 for 11.
SMU led by 17 points early in the second half, then survived a UConn rally that cut the lead to five with 3:22 left.
The Mustangs' fans, hugely outnumbered in UConn's home arena, began chanting "N-I-T" as the clock wound down, then switched to "S-M-U" as the buzzer sounded.
The tournament title was the first for the Mustangs since the 1988 team won the Southwest Conference.
SMU led by 14 at halftime and quickly stretched that to 36-19 on a three-point play by Moreira.
A pair of free throws by Boatright made it 53-48 with 3:22 left. But six free throws from SMU pushed the lead back to nine and put the game out of reach.
SMU dominated down low, especially in the first half. The Mustangs outrebounded the Huskies 43-30 and 14-7 on the offensive glass.
UConn's front line got into foul trouble early. Sophomore center Amida Brimah (Accra, Ghana) and junior Philip Nolan (Milwaukee, Wis.) each picked up two in the first 13 minutes. Reserve Rakim Lubin (Miami, Fla.), played because forward Kentan Facey (Trelawney, Jamaica) was out with a concussion, had three.
SMU's defense held UConn five field goals by halftime. Kennedy had that many by himself.
But SMU's big men got into foul trouble in the second half, allowing UConn to make its run. Kennedy and Ben Moore both picked up their fourth within a minute of each other midway through the half.
The Mustangs were up by 11 when Kennedy left the game.
Kennedy, who was voted the league's top sixth man earlier this week, was honored as the tournament's most outstanding player. SMU's bench outscored UConn's 29-8.
The Huskies, who were playing on one of their two home courts, beat USF, Cincinnati and Tulsa to make it to the title game. But they are just 1-4 this season against ranked opponents. Their only win came against SMU two weeks ago.
The Mustangs have won 9 of 10. The lone loss in that span was on this court to UConn on March 1.
Seeded sixth, they face UCLA on Thursday in Louisville in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993.
UConn: This was the first time the Huskies played a conference tournament on one of their home floors since the 1982 Big East championship was held at the Civic Center, now the XL Center. ... The Huskies, who lost in last year's American final to Louisville, are now 7-5 in conference title games. They won the Big East Tournament seven times.
SMU: The Mustangs' defense was impressive during the tournament and held UConn to 32 percent shooting, 21 percent in the first half. ... Coach Larry Brown will be returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988, when he led Kansas to the national championship. He took UCLA to the tourney twice and Kansas five times before heading to the NBA. The Hall of Famer remains the only coach to win an NCAA trophy and an NBA title (Pistons).
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