PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Even Larry Brown had no idea how his SMU team would play after being ranked for the first time in 29 years.
The veteran coach needn't have worried.
Nic Moore scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half, Nick Russell added 16 points and the No. 23 Mustangs prevailed 77-65 over Rutgers on Friday night to earn their first win as a ranked team since the 1984-85 season
"These are all learning experiences for us," Brown said. "We talked about it. We haven't been there before. It's a growing process, but I thought we responded great."
SMU (20-5, 9-3 American Athletic Conference) reached the 20-win plateau for just the second time in 13 years.
"I feel like we played together, played through adversity when things got tough, and just fought it out," said Moore, who was 5 of 9 from 3-point range to help SMU shoot 8 for 18 from beyond the arc. "I feel like earlier in the season we might not have overcome this type of (environment), but now we know what we have to do to pull out a game like this."
The Mustangs led for the game's final 32 minutes to win their fourth straight and for the ninth time in 10 games. SMU held Rutgers without a field goal over the final 6:17 of the first half and went into halftime with a 36-29 lead.
The Scarlet Knights used a 7-0 run to rally within 41-40 with 15 minutes to play, but Moore drilled three 3-pointers during a 14-2 run to extend the Mustangs' advantage to 12.
Myles Mack had 17 points and Kadeem Jack scored 15 for the Scarlet Knights (10-15, 4-8), who never got within six points over the final 13 minutes.
"I really didn't have a problem with the way we played tonight," said Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan, whose team lost 70-56 to SMU in Dallas on Jan. 21. "I thought we had terrific effort, we shared the basketball, we played the game plan for the most part, but there was some breakdowns, some missed assignments. But for 40 minutes we stayed together, we shared the game and we just played against a good team that's on a good roll right now."
SMU, which ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage defense, was outscored 32-30 in the paint but held Rutgers to 3-for-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The Mustangs' reserves outscored their Rutgers counterparts 23-16, with Cannen Cunningham scoring 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
"For the most part, we got the ball inside, we got good shots and we missed them," Jordan said. "Those things have to click against the best defensive team in the conference."
While the Mustangs are unblemished at home this season, they came in having dropped two of their previous four games on the road. But after the game scheduled for Thursday night was pushed back a day by the storm that blanketed the Northeast with snow, Brown had his team practice in the RAC to get familiar with the environment.
"(Rutgers) has had some great teams come in here, I'm sure they were not intimidated by anybody," Brown said. "We didn't handle our last experience in a game, maybe we were supposed to win, and I don't mean that disrespectfully to Rutgers. But most people would think with their record and our record we were supposed to win. Rutgers is capable of beating anybody, but we got a win. It wasn't an easy trip, sitting in the hotel. . I thought we showed a lot tonight. I'm proud of them."
After saluting his team in the locker room, Brown had to walk to the other side of the arena to hold his postgame press conference. As he entered the media room, he quipped, "Thank God we won because that would've been the longest walk of my life."
While he enjoyed the season sweep of Rutgers, Brown quickly looked ahead to a short trip to Philadelphia, where his team will meet Temple on Sunday afternoon.
"I am happy I am coaching," said Brown, a veteran of four decades of coaching in college and the NBA. "I am 73 years old and I am allowed to do something I love. I get to be around the kids and great coaches sitting next to me. I didn't handle retirement well. I am not ready to go to Florida. I am loving what I am doing. My son is my roommate. It doesn't get much better than that."