Hartford, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-seeded SMU Mustangs play their first game in the 2015 American Athletic Conference Tournament in the quarterfinal round on Friday, as they take on the eighth-seeded East Carolina Pirates.
The winner will move on to the semifinals on Saturday to face either Memphis or Temple.
East Carolina, which is new to the AAC this season, picked up its first tournament win in Thursday's opening round by slipping past UCF in overtime, 81-80. The victory put the brakes on a two-game slide, was just their third in the last month. and improved the Pirates' overall record to 14-18. They went just 6-12 versus the rest of the American during the regular season.
SMU has enjoyed a tremendous season under legendary coach Larry Brown, logging a 24-6 overall record, and its 15-3 league ledger earned it the AAC regular- season title. The Mustangs have won six of their last seven games, and they have gone 14-2 since Jan. 8.
SMU leads the all-time series with East Carolina, 6-4. The teams, which used to be rivals in Conference USA as well, met just once during the regular season with the Ponies prevailing in a 77-54 decision in Dallas on Jan. 17.
East Carolina, which averages just 64 ppg on the season with only a handful of players putting up what would be considered moderate offensive numbers, had five players score in double figures in Thursday's win over UCF, led by B.J. Tyson who tallied 19 points to go with five assists in 30 minutes of action off the bench. Marshall Guilmette added 18 points, Michel Nzege and Caleb White 13 apiece, and Paris Campbell 11 for the Pirates, who shot 45.6 percent from the field, hit nine 3-pointers and committed only eight turnovers. The Knights also drained nine treys, but they were guilty of 13 miscues, off which ECU scored 19 points.
Led by the AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore (14.4 ppg, 5.3 apg), SMU is the league's top offensive team, as it nets 69.5 ppg behind AAC-best shooting percentages of .484 overall, .363 beyond the arc and .706 at the free-throw line. Brown also preaches defense, and the Mustangs have responded to his direction by allowing a mere 59.8 ppg to rank second in the conference. They are No. 1 in assists (15.7 apg), rebounding margin (+6.5) and field goal percentage defense (.382). In addition to the honor bestowed upon Moore, Markus Kennedy (11.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg) was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year, and Yanick Moreira (11.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) its Most Improved Player.