January 01, 2016

SMU will have one of its biggest tests in its pursuit of an American Athletic Conference championship next week but will first try to avoid a slip-up against the league's worst team.

The 17th-ranked Mustangs shouldn't have much trouble staying unbeaten after a visit from South Florida on Saturday night.

Because of NCAA sanctions, SMU can only win one title - the AAC's regular-season crown - and got that chase off to a strong start with an 81-69 victory at Tulsa on Tuesday.

Freshman Shake Milton had a career-high 24 points and went 7 of 8 from 3-point range in his hometown. Nic Moore scored 23 points as the Mustangs (12-0, 1-0) extended their best start in school history.

"When I was (serving a nine-game suspension), all I heard were guys talking about how unselfish we are and how well we pass the ball, particularly our bigs," coach Larry Brown said. "Since I've been back, nothing has really changed. It's a value that our program is trying to be about. We don't care who gets the shot or the credit."

SMU, one of three remaining unbeaten teams, will face No. 22 Cincinnati on Thursday but will first try to get past South Florida (3-11, 0-1).

The Bulls, currently the only AAC team with a losing overall record, were competitive in a 73-67 loss to visiting Houston in their conference opener Wednesday. Chris Perry had a season-high 19 points and 10 rebounds while leading scorer Jahmal McMurray tallied 18 points.

"It's a team that is continuing to get better," coach Orlando Antigua said. "We've still got room to grow. We just have to keep moving that way."

McMurray, a freshman guard, is South Florida's only player averaging in double figures (13.4 points per game). The Bulls are putting up a conference-worst 64.2 points per contest while shooting 41.2 percent.

The Mustangs, meanwhile, are averaging a league-best 83.8 on 52.7 percent shooting - 44.9 from 3-point range - and are second with 62.8 points allowed per game. If those numbers remain steady, SMU could cruise to its third consecutive win over South Florida.

It swept last season's meetings against a team that finished 9-23 overall and last in the conference at 3-15. The Mustangs blew out the Bulls 83-49 at home Dec. 31, 2014, and won 63-52 at South Florida on Jan. 28 with Markus Kennedy scoring a career-best 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting.

The Bulls have lost 18 in a row to Top 25 opponents since a 58-51 victory at No. 19 Louisville on Feb. 29, 2012. They lost 84-63 to formerly top-ranked Kentucky on Nov. 27 in Miami.

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