DALLAS – Sterling Brown and his SMU teammates cut the nets down at Moody Coliseum amid the confetti and streamers.
The home-court celebration isn’t the end for Brown and this Mustangs senior class.
Brown had 26 points and 10 rebounds in his final home game , his school-record 106th victory, and the 14th-ranked Mustangs – a year after being banned from postseason play – clinched the outright American Athletic Conference title with a 103-62 victory over Memphis on Saturday.
“We’ve still have a few games left and we’ve got a goal that we haven’t reached yet,” Brown, one of the three SMU seniors, said with one of the arena’s nets draped over his shoulder.
The Mustangs (27-4, 17-1) take a 13-game winning streak into next week’s AAC Tournament in Connecticut as the top seed. And then they’re going back to the NCAA Tournament after being banned from all postseason play last season, when the only confetti during a 25-win season came on Senior Night.
“This has to be more special because it is a journey to accomplish an awful lot of things and more to come,” coach Tim Jankovich said. “Where that was a finite ending, we already knew … this has a different feeling.”
With two-time American Athletic Conference player of the year Nic Moore and AAC top sixth man Markus Kennedy, SMU couldn’t advance to the postseason again in their senior season because of NCAA penalties from a September 2015 ruling involving a case of academic fraud under former coach Larry Brown.
Sterling Brown had a long inbounds pass to Semi Ojeleye for a breakaway one-handed dunk and hit consecutive 3-pointers in an early 15-2 run that put SMU in control of the game.
Ojeleye, coming off a 9-of-9 shooting game Thursday, made his first three shots on the way to 19 points while finishing 5 of 6 with three 3-pointers. Ben Moore, another senior, had 16 points.
Keon Clergeot had 14 points to lead Memphis (19-12, 9-9), which trailed by as many as 48 points in the second half and suffered its worst loss since 1947.
“We played poorly, but they played great,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “We just didn’t make shots early in the game, and dug ourselves a hole.”
The crowd Saturday included former President George W. Bush, a frequent attender, along with Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who led SMU’s impressive turnaround the past four seasons before unexpectedly leaving the job last summer when unable to come to terms on a new contract.
While the postseason ban was for only one year, the Mustangs are still short-handed because of scholarship reductions that extend past this season. They played several games this season with only six available scholarship players.
Jonathan Wilfong, a walk-on senior who started for only the second time in his 52 career games, had a nifty pass to Moore that broke the game’s only tie, which was 4-4. That was also the first of 10 consecutive SMU points in less than 2 1/2 minutes.
When Wilfong hit a jumper with just over 6 minutes left for his first points, the Mustangs led 87-44 and the crowd erupted.
“To end our Moody career with a line like that, a special way to go out,” said Wilfong, who carried the championship trophy out of the postgame availability.
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